Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sacred Grief -- book review

Sacred Grief: Exploring a New Dimension to Grief

By Leslee Tessmann

Loving Healing Press April 2008

This was a publisher ARC and I wish someone had given me this book fifteen, twenty, thirty, or even 45 years ago. While Freud and Kubler-Ross had much insight into grief and grieving and changed the way we grieve and watch/help others grieve, this book moves beyond the processes in which we can become trapped to free us.

The concept of each moment being sacred is not new. In fact, Ram Dass’s book Be Here Now has had a great impact on many people and many movements since its first publication. However, the concept of grief as sacred, to be embraced, as moments of recognition, is very new and very needed.

In addition to the references to AA and Al-Anon, to Chodron and Williamson and T. Moore and C. Myss, I would place this book squarely in the middle of the centering prayer movement, begun within the work of Thomas Merton and carried on by Thomas Keating and his brothers from the monastery out into the world. The Appendix with its self-reflective questions for each chapter, intended for journaling, for use with a partner or a group, would be as much at home in the context of spiritual direction and discernment as in the world of psychology, as some of the choices in the too-short bibliography indicate.

The very last page of the regular text states: “The true essence of world peace lies in being with things just the way they are. Achieving that will require compassion on the part of every human being to have a world that is willing to be with things exactly as they are for longer than a few fleeting seconds” (121). She talks about hiding for twenty-five years, about losing herself in her attempts to keep herself safe. Those pieces of information tie me to her uncannily, as does the fact that I’m reading this book at almost the same age that she was when she wrote it.

Her short list of “rules” on pages 25-26, juxtapositioned with the “shoulds” on page 21 are familiar inhabitants of my world. More importantly, however, is Tessmann’s recognition that there are the big griefs in life – deaths, unwanted divorces – but also the little griefs that come with inevitable changes in our lives, daily grief that must be handled in order for us to find peace.

It has been a couple of months since I read this the first time, in one long night, laughing and crying at the content. It has taken time for me to work through the concepts in my heart as well as in my head. I recommend the book for anyone and everyone who has experienced loss in his or her life.

Thank you, Leslee Tessmann for a book that is both beautiful and useful. Thank you Loving Healing Press for publishing such a magnificent book.

F. Holt 8/12/2008

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