Comments on How We Grieve: Relearning the World

"Attig has written a groundbreaking book, one that may prove to be a cornerstone in a revised theory of grief and its place in human life. In contrast to generations of grief theorists who have depicted our adaptation to loss in passive terms, Attig offers us a fresh vision of grieving as a full-bodied act of reconstructing a world, a process that is rich in choice. Drawing on the stories of real people facing the variegated losses of spouses, parents, children, and other loved ones, he sketches the outlines of an alternative account of grieving as a 'relearning' process, one that is at once emotional intellectual, practical, and existential. I would recommend it to all those who have suffered a loss, as well as those therapists and counselors who attempt to help them."

              --- Robert A. Neimeyer, Ph.D., author of Lessons in Loss

"How We Grieve: Relearning the World makes it clear from the title on that after the death of a loved one a mourner must do more than merely express feelings, but actively must work to make appropriate readjustments. Attig is brilliant in maintaining a consistent respect for the individuality of the mourner, portraying what he/she needs to do to cope with the loss of a loved one, identifying precisely what must be relearned in order to go on healthily in the new world without forgetting the old, and discussing how appropriate connections with the deceased can be maintained. Illustrated with vivid vignettes that educate, normalize, and guide, the book is a compassionate, humanistic, philosophical, psychosocial, and spiritual itinerary for the bereaved and those who seek to assist them."

              --- Therese A. Rando, Ph.D., author of How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies.

"Penetrating--accessible and philosophically sophisticated. This is a profound and immensely practical work on grief. It is emotionally compelling and deeply moral, with sophisticated epistemological and religious stances. Clearly it's the culmination of twenty years of listening, teaching, and writing on the subject of grief."

              --- a reader from Massachusetts

"Tom Attig has provided a wonderfully readable book on grief that manages both to push forward the boundaries of the ways we understand theory and to provide comfort for those experiencing loss."

              --- Kenneth Doka, Ph.D., Professor of Gerontology, Graduate School of the College of New Rochelle.

"In this powerful book Attig offers a persuasive corrective to the prevailing medical view of grieving with his clear description of how a death alters the web of relationships in which we live. His view of grieving as relearning the world shows mourners that although we cannot control death, we can choose how we grieve, how we reshape and redirect our lives after the death of someone close."

              --- Phyllis Silverman, Ph.D., author of Widow to Widow

"What a find this book is! How often we say, when somebody has died, 'If there is anything I can do...' We're sincere, but usually, after we've prepared a casserole, we feel so helpless to do anything more. Then I discovered How We Grieve: Relearning the World. Since then I've been giving it to bereaved friends. They take comfort that others have shared their experiences. They learn the ways that others have begun putting their lives back together. Several have conveyed to me what reading How We Grieve has meant to them. It gave them a sense of being understood and it provided many useful clues to understanding themselves and discovering how to reengage in the joys and burdens life brings. So, in truth, I no longer say, 'If there is anything I can do.' Instead, perhaps three months after the funeral, I write a heart-felt inscription in a copy of How We Grieve and send it to my friend. I commend the practice for the solace and healing it has provided."

              --- a reader from Ohio

"Because each person's view of the world and of other people is unique, so too is the reaction to bereavement. The loss of a loved person requires us to relearn a wide range of things and is, inevitably, a complex process which takes a long time, much longer than we expect. Attig uses a series of case examples, which are studied in depth, to illustrate the relearning process. Although it is aimed at bereaved people and full of practical reassurance and advice, this book will also be of interest to all those who strive to understand and to support bereaved people."

              --- Colin Murray Parkes, Psychiatrist, author of ereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life

"This is a 'must have' book for mourners and care providers alike. The unique contribution of this work is the concept of 'relearning,' which is another way of empowering the mourners to meet the challenges and choices presented by significant losses. The lessons learned from the stories told in this book emphasize the need of mourners to be cared about, not cared for and supported, not done for or to. It redefines the mourner not as victim, but as capable of learning and dealing with life's greatest challenge. I most heartily endorse this book, especially for mental health professionals, whether or not they specialize in working with loss and grief."

              --- Sally Featherstone, MN, RN; Clinical Nurse Specialist in Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing

"How We Grieve provides a thoughtful, sensitive and compelling look at the experience of the griever. Attig's journey into the emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of grief provides long-overdue insight about grief as a life-long process of relearning the world. This fresh and soul-searching book offers solace and understanding for the bereaved searching to make sense of their loss, as well as practical, direct suggestions for bereavement professionals, educators, and those who seek to support a friend in grief."

              --- Donna L. Schuurman, Ed.D.; Executive Director of The Dougy Center for Grieving Children, Portland, Oregon

"It was my favorite. I was widowed at the age of 29. In the months that followed I read every non-sectarian grief book that I could find. Attig's was definitely the most helpful book I came across. It repeatedly enforced the point that things had changed beyond my control. It also then pointed out to me what I still had some control over. At a time when I was lost and feeling rather helpless it did a great job of showing me how I wasn't helpless. I gained a lot of motivation for facing the challenges ahead of me from Attig's book, I recommend it to others who's lives have been turned upside down from grief."

              --- a reader from Pennsylvania

"The most valuable service provided by How We Grieve could be to bereaved individuals and families who are searching for something good to read as they reflect on their own grieving, particularly in the weeks and months and even years later. The author throughout the book provides valuable insights as he seeks to make sense of the profound psycho-social and spiritual strain of bereavement that for many is utterly isolating, idiosyncratic, and lonely. For grieving persons, Attig's greatest contribution and strongest claim is the call for respecting individual differences while being present in a meaningful way to grieving persons. How We Grieve should be of assistance to many as they seek to reach this worthy objective and goal."

              --- Robert Bendiksen, Ph.D., Executive Secretary of the International Work Group on Death, Dying, and Bereavement

"Attig has brought us a book that is as historical as it is prophetic, a book that needs to be read now, but also reread in about five years (to see if we have learned the important lessons in the book.) I have seen a gentler, perhaps pastoral side of the author in this book, and some very helpful stories that brought to light and life the significant principles offered in the book, as well as stories that grabbed hold of my own story in new and innovative ways."

              --- Rev. Richard Gilbert, Founding Director, Connections-Spiritual Links, Elgin, Illinois

"Attig has reinforced my common sense that tells me I am always the student and those who come seeking my help are the teachers -- the real experts. How We Grieve will not be read by everybody who promotes him/herself as 'an expert in grief' -- but it should be....Attig's respect for the complex nature of all grief (not just 'complicated grief') stands testimony to the power and honesty of his work. It is what I truly believe will be a landmark book in our field. It is, in my opinion, the most important new thinking about grief since Kubler-Ross."

              --- Larry Huston, Ph.D., Clinical Thanatologist, Porter Care Hospital, Littleton, Colorado

"How We Grieve is a timely, wise addition to bereavement literature. This is not a book that needs to rely on task or stage theory to make sense, to inform, or to inspire hope. Instead Attig's work is based on narrative--the real stories of real bereaved persons. There is a coherence here as well as a challenge. Adding commentary--not analysis--to powerful real stories, Attig illustrates to readers the daunting choices people can and do make to reclaim and relearn their lives after a grievous loss. Especially powerful is the author's discussion of how persons in helping roles can increase their capacity to support and empower those who are bereave by recognizing, understanding and respecting individual vulnerabilities and meanings."

              --- Donna O'Toole, Director, Compassion Books, Burnsville, North Carolina

"Most experienced clinicians in the field of death, dying and bereavement who work with a relatively 'normal population,' learn through observation and experience that grief never ends, that bereaved people learn to 'live with' the pain of loss, to accommodate painful events in their lives. They know that those who do so retain a feeling of connectedness with loved ones who have died, that symbolic representations of the dead person provide comfort for many, and that grief work is an active, not a passive process. They know too that while grief work involves certain tasks, those tasks are not necessarily neat and sequential, nor are they completed like some final exam before graduation. Learning to live with a changed 'self' in a changed world is hard work.

"In his book, How We Grieve: Relearning the World, Thomas Attig weaves these themes with the deft hand of a philosopher, gently but consistently drawing the reader into a deeper understanding of that active process. He discourages without blame, the bereaved person's descent into a position of passive helplessness, using case histories and his own philosophical yet practical understanding to lead the bereaved person into a new perception of themselves and their world.

"Attig's empathic challenge is to understand and actively respond to the intricate web of changed human relationships following a bereavement. The book is one I would recommend to those clients and clinicians whose understanding of practical processes is characteristically enhanced through the subtleties of the written word. A valuable and resourceful addition to any library shelf."

              --- Dianne R. McKissock, Order of Australia Medalist and Co-Director of the Bereavement CARE Centre, Sydney, Australia

"This book is a must read for anyone who is involved in providing support for individuals in grief. The reasons for providing grief counseling and the ways to effectively assist the person in grief should be rethought to incorporate the concepts presented by Attig in this important contribution to the field."

              --- David K. Meagher, Ed.D., Coordinator of the Thanatology Program, Brooklyn College-CUNY

"How We Grieve: Relearning the World by Dr. Thomas Attig is an important step forward in our understanding of the grief process. Dr. Attig has integrated the contributions of both classic and contemporary researchers about the nature of grief, but has gone further, to show how the griever has lost the orientations that made sense out of life and has to learn new ones. I believe that this very important book will be useful for the grievers themselves, for students, and for professionals who work with the dying and the grieving."

              --- John D. Morgan, Ph.D., Coordinator of the King's College Center for Education about Death and Bereavement, London, Ontario

"Viewing grieving as a difficult yet potentially transformative way of relearning how to be, the book examines how we may choose to act in a world where loss invariably reshapes the fabric of our lives, challenging us to relearn on multiple levels--physically (the palpable things and places in our lives), socially (in relating to others), spiritually (sometimes as an outgrowth of our earlier experiences and sometimes in surprising contrast to them), and intrapersonally (reevaluating and even redirecting our own life stories.). Combining a wealth of evocative case material (a loss is often examined from different family members' points of view) with references to thinkers ranging from Freud to Kierkegaard,How We Grieve brings new depth to our understanding of bereavement."

              --- Behavioral Science Book Service

"Extremely helpful and insightful. This is a very, very good book. It helps immensely in understanding why grief can be so difficult and absorbing. It teaches how to be patient and understanding in dealing with grief, our own grief or the grief of others. It offers deep and valuable insights into the many aspects of the grief process--including why the world seems so strange after somebody dies, the importance of stories in grieving, our choice-making in bereavement, the ways we remain connected to a loved one who has died, even why so many of us want to read about grief when we are grieving."

              --- Paul Rosenblatt, Ph.D., author of Parent Grief: Narratives of Loss and Relationship

"Grief is a topic that has been explored only in recent years, with Kubler-Ross getting it all started. Attig brings this topic a step further in discussing not only how we grieve, but in suggesting that in doing so, we must relearn the world. We have lost a loved one and our world has been vastly changed in just a few quick moments. We need to cope, to allow ourselves to grieve, and ultimately to create or 'relearn' a world that can never be the same.

"The wonderful case studies Attig presents are the most helpful in helping the grieving reader to do this important life task. They tell real stories of real people that we can identify with and relate to. They evoke emotional responses that help us grow and believe we too can relearn our world in the face of grieving. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who is grieving the loss of a beloved relative or friend, or to those who wish to prepare themselves in advance for the inevitable."

              --- a reader from Ohio

"Thomas Attig's recent book, How We Grieve: Relearning the World offers a powerful conceptualization of bereavement and grief, and thus offers immediate help to those who may have come across only the facile generalizations of some of the 'death and dying' popularizers, such as Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

"In a series of six intertwined essays, each with a slightly different emphasis, Attig develops his central metaphor: 'relearning the world.' Attig argues that bereavement is a 'choiceless event'; grieving, by contrast, is full of choices, all of which require tremendous amounts of directed energy. Grieving, in other words, requires that survivors choose to relearn the world. And this relearning--this making of choices-- is an active, difficult, and not always successful, process. If you now think of grieving as simply a matter of feeling 'sad,' you need this book.

"In less than 200 pages of clean, concrete, sharply focused prose, Thomas Attig illustrates and explains what it means to relearn the world (i.e., what it means to grieve): 1)We relearn our physical surroundings; 2)We relearn our relationships with our fellow survivors; 3)We relearn our places in space and time; 4)We relearn our spiritual places in the world ; 5)We relearn our selves [one entire essay is devoted to grief and personal integrity] ; 6) We relearn our relationships with the deceased [another essay is devoted to love, grief, and separation].

"The brute reality of death remains, no matter what. No book can prevent bereavement or block the pain of bereavement when it does come. No book can make grieving easy. No book can remove the mystery of life and death. Still, reading does help. Thomas Attig's How We Grieve: Relearning the World may help survivors think a bit more clearly about grieving and make more positive choices as they struggle with their bereavement. As a bonus, the book is beautifully printed. I recommend it to you."

              --- a reader from Ithaca, New York


Table of Contents

Book Excerpt