Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from the Introduction
So Why Would You Listen to Me?
I needed this book. I really, really needed this book about fifteen years ago when my only child Nathan died of cancer at age sixteen. But it wasn't out there. I read a ton of books about grief and bereavement and what I should do to help myself. But there was nothing I could give friends, family members, organizations I belonged to, the people I worked with, or the members at my church on how they could help me. It was painfully evident, except for a couple of courageous, persistent friends, that no one knew how to help me.
See, we don't talk about death. No one's interested in talking about death. Most of all me! According to D. Brookes Cowan, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Vermont, end-of-life care specialist, and part of the team that produced the critically acclaimed 2004 documentary Pioneers of Hospice: Changing the Face of Dying, death has replaced sex as the number one taboo topic of conversation in America. That is in direct contradiction to the idea that the more people we share our sorrow withthe number quoted is usually one hundredthe more healing occurs. In the past fifteen years, I've told maybe twenty people the agonizing story of my son's death. I've got eighty to go. The problem is finding those additional eighty people willing to listen and talk about death in general and my bereavement in particular.
If we don't talk about it, how will we ever learn how to be one of the one hundred who help others when death occurs? Because I knew my loss wasn't the first death people had encountered, I was confused as to why they didn't know how to help me even though they wanted to.
Over the past fifteen years, we've suffered through numerous school shootings, mass murders, mine collapses, devastating losses from tsunamis, and war. After September 11, 2001, I was sure someone would see the need for this book and that quickly we'd have the definitive work on how anyone could help the bereaved. I waited in vain. The book never came out.
As a writer, the answer became clear. I'd have to write it myself. I was reluctant. While I, unfortunately, could speak with the voice of authority (after all, I've lived itbeen there, done that, burned the T-shirt), I struggled with how to write it. As my writer friends told me I should write a book about my experience, all I thought was, Who the hell would read a depressing book like that?
Well, I'm described as having quite the sense of humor. So I outlined and pitched the book as written in a light, humorous, and sometimes irreverent tone. A humorous book about death? Could I do that? Any doubts I had about my ability to write this book with that voice vanished as soon as I typed in Tip #1, the first way to help the bereaved. It was a challenge, but it was fun and relatively easy after that. I had, after all, been writing this book in my head for fifteen years!
While this book is 90 percent things people should do to help the bereaved (the dos), there are some things that should be strictly avoided (the don'ts.) They've happened to me, and they've happened to every bereaved person I've met. I managed to keep the don'ts light, too, I hasten to add, but all of these don'ts are real.
Yep, I really needed this book. Now I have it. And so do you. It's a reference work you can keep on the shelf for years, to help you and the people close to you weather whatever life or, rather, death, throws at you. It even includes an appendix that provides the manner of dress, particular customs, and a kind of code of conduct at funerals for nine different religious groups and nonreligious ones as well, from the Baha'i to the Unitarian Universalist. So if you are on your way out the door now to go to a viewing or funeral and want to know if you are dressed correctly, then go ahead and flip immediately to the appendix. Otherwise, here is how to read this book.
Chapter 1 lists eleven things everyone should know and do to help the bereaved. Read that.
Chapter 2 lists eleven things everyone should absolutely not say to the bereaved. I call them the Atrocious Eleven. Read that chapterespecially if you are on your way out the door to a viewing or funeral. Please.
Chapter 3 has ten tips for someone you know just a little, like someone who belongs to your garden club or the gym where you work out. So that chapter is useful for everyone. Read it.
Chapter 4 has thirteen tips to help you support the bereaved who is your co-worker or employee.
Chapter 5 has twenty-one tips for if the bereaved is your neighbor, and chapter 6 has thirty-five tips for if the bereaved is your best friend or family member.