Book Review: Grief Works by Julia Samuel

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Books stacked on a black wooden book shelf.

In this blog, Ruth reflects on a book, Grief Works, which has helped her to understand and process her own grief, as well as helped her to support others going through it.

Grief Works by Julia Samuel contains stories of life, death, and surviving which is all separated in defined chapters. In the first chapter, Julia goes into depth about her understanding of grief, which validated all of my thoughts and feelings. She was realistic and I loved how she didn’t sugar coat the grieving process.

Exploring grief

Our own grief consumes our minds easily, but this book gives you the option to explore when a partner, parent, sibling and or child dies. It also includes people facing their own death. It was clearly listed so you could easily skip a chapter if you wanted to. I was actually interested to explore grief from another perspectives, as I was exhausted of my own. It helped me to empathise with others and see a strength I hadn’t seen in myself yet.

Within Grief Works Julia explains the ‘7 Pillars of Strength’ which is a system of support that can help grievers every single day. The relationship with oneself was one of the seven pillars; this really helped me to stop hating myself and to avoid self-criticism. She emphasises the importance of self-compassion and how we need to listen to our own needs and thoughts.

Is this thought normal?

Before reading Grief Works, I had this dark intrusive thought of my loved one’s body lying in the morgue. It wasn’t me that had to identify their body, but my imagination made it feel real. Julia explained that “the shock of the event, even if imagined, is so intense people have flashbacks”.

I thought I was insane; how could I be traumatised by a thought that I just imagined? I couldn’t tell anyone because I was scared that they would have thought I was insane. After reading that section, I burst into tears; it was sheer relief. Others felt the same as me, I’m not insane- I am processing a traumatic death.

The physical impact of grief

Before reading this book, I also remember saying to my boyfriend “you can’t break my heart, the death of my loved ones already did”. I learnt that people who are bereaved have higher rates of heart disease than the general population. We are six times more likely to suffer from heart disease than the national average. Unknown to me I was right… in a sense. Now having this knowledge, it has emphasised the importance of maintaining a healthy body.

Supporting others

Some people presume that if you have experienced loss yourself you are a guaranteed grief counsellor. This is not true. I still don’t always know what to say to someone who has lost someone. Thankfully, within the book it has a dedicated section about how friends and family can help. I loved this section because it can help me when I’m supporting others who are grieving themselves.

This book impacted me so much, it helped me to understand my own grief and know that my feelings were and are valid and normal. It has helped me understand grief in general and has given  me practical advice in helping others who are struggling with grief.

I can’t emphasise enough how much this book meant to me during a dark and confusing time in my life and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to you.

Thank you, Sarah, for buying me this incredible book.

Ruth Marshall

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