by Alexandra Kennedy
New Harbinger, 2014
Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Jul 28th 2015
Alexandra Kennedy is a psychotherapist, grief expert, and author. In the "Introduction" to her book, entitled Honoring Grief, Kennedy writes that grief touches everyone; and that ungrieved losses take a toll on the heart. Kennedy asserts that her book offers unique strategies and opportunities for healing, as the reader explores the sacred territory of grief.
Drawing readers' attention, in the Introduction, to the book's distinctive format, Kennedy explains that words chosen carefully, conveying just a few thoughts per page, offer a distilled wisdom, emanating from Kennedy's years of teaching and clinical practice as a psychotherapist. Kennedy explains further that the short bursts of forthright, poetic language allow the reader to project the reader's own experiences and imagination onto the book; and to take in insights and suggestions, regarding grief, with space to integrate all this into the reader's daily life.
In a "Foreword" composed pithily, American poet, author, and teacher Stephen Levine writes poetically that Kennedy, to heal what can never be broken, offers finely wrought (on the hard anvil of need, with the soft-tipped brush of the heart) words.
The grief centric discourse of Kennedy is a beacon for grieving persons.
The area of grief is illumined brightly by Kennedy with wisdom, sensitivity, insightfulness, and thoughtfulness.
The writing of Kennedy profusely exudes artistic beauty.
The substantive contents are suffused with myriad suggestions germane to grief.
Putting relatively few words to paper on each page, Kennedy, over the book's substantive course, adds much potentially healing flesh to the bones of grief stricken readers.
In the book's "Part 1", the sharp-sighted eye of Kennedy insightfully and thoughtfully sights what is inside the frame of the nature of grief.
Kennedy observes that experiencing loss is a lifelong experience: there are losses, as one grows up; the losses mount up, by middle age; and by old age, one is faced with letting go of everything one once held dear.
Ungrieved losses take a toll on the heart. The grief remains buried in the body and the psyche.
Each person, according to Kennedy, carries a well of grief (holding the ungrieved losses of a lifetime).
Grief, as Kennedy describes it, is slow; it goes deep; and there is no map or schedule.
And further, grief turns one inward and downward; it takes one into one's depths.
Kennedy opines that few experiences have the power that grief has, to humble, transform, and expand people.
Creating a sanctuary for grieving comprises the substantive essence of "Part 2", of the book.
Kennedy teaches that the sanctuary is a powerful strategy for healing grief. One creates a sacred space that holds one gently, as one turns within.
According to Kennedy, using the sanctuary regularly generates a sense of peace amidst grieving.
Removed from the distractions of daily life, the sanctuary is a refuge dedicated to one's healing.
But Kennedy admonishes that it is the depth accessed when grieving
(not the length of time in the sanctuary) that heals the psyche.
Kennedy suggests thinking of the sanctuary as a cocoon that protects one while one is in a state of transformation.
The sanctuary, Kennedy discourses, invites one to be oneself. If one judges oneself for having a particular feeling, one is interfering with the flow of grief.
There are tasks in grieving; and the view of Kennedy is that the sanctuary is a good place to focus on tasks of grieving.
But Kennedy proffers the admonition: When one leaves the sanctuary, let go of focusing on grief; make a clear transition.
Kennedy opines that the biggest gift of the sanctuary is that it invites us to be just as we are in our grief.
Kennedy discourses that, after the loss of a loved one, many of us are left with good-byes unsaid, old hurts unhealed, and love unexpressed. And these wounds, according to Kennedy, can taint all our relationships. In "Part 3", Kennedy expounds on healing old hurts, saying good-bye, and expressing love.
It is taught by Kennedy that it is in dreams that many have the first experience of an ongoing inner relationship with a deceased loved one.
Readers are taught that dreams arise from the unconscious, and communicate important information about how grief affects us at this deep level of the psyche; and further, dreams guide our work in the sanctuary.
An unexplored dream, writes Kennedy, is like gold cast away.
The suggestion of Kennedy is to sit with the dream in your sanctuary.
Regarding the nature of the relationship with a deceased loved one, a possibility to explore in one's sanctuary is to write a letter.
Kennedy discourses, in this regard, that writing a letter to a deceased loved one gives you the freedom to express whatever may have been held back in a relationship.
The letter's purpose is not to find fault with the other, but to express what is unresolved in your heart.
Another way suggested by Kennedy to connect with a deceased loved one is through imagery.
As described by Kennedy, after repeated experiences of connecting with a loved one through imagination, your heart will acknowledge a comforting presence abiding within.
Kennedy writes that, to the imagination, death is not an ending; love is never lost.
In concluding "Part 4", Kennedy thoughtfully ponders recreating our lives after loss.
Kennedy muses that our lives are broken apart and recreated in times of grief.
Grief, as explained by Kennedy, calls on one to recreate one's life in a way that incorporates new values, perspectives, and priorities.
Kennedy offers that, in the quiet of one's sanctuary, one might find questions beginning to surface from the upheaval inherent in grief.
Questioning, in Kennedy's view, is one of the most creative aspects of grieving.
The counsel of Kennedy is to let the questioning move you deeper into yourself; and to use the nurturing environment of the sanctuary to connect with your inherent wisdom.
Kennedy discourses that, as life-changing questions are embraced, one will begin to see the need to integrate the shift in values and perspectives into every aspect of daily life.
Our grief, Kennedy explains, wakes us up to life. We learn to bear the exquisite sorrow and beauty of being fully alive; and to cherish what's here now.
As the book ends, Kennedy opines that grieving is sacred work; it has the power to take you deep into your Source, where you will glimpse your true home; and that is where you find peace.
It may be said that every person is unique; and that every person's grieving is unique.
And it may be said, as well, that the qualitative pondering of Kennedy of grief, exceptional for its thoughtfulness and insightfulness, at times embeds relatively vague terms in the substantive body of the book.
All readers will likely be drawn strongly to the bright light shined revealingly by Kennedy on the area of grief.
Bereavement counselors, mental health professionals, and clergy members are among those who may be quite enlightened, professionally, by the light of this book.
© 2015 Leo Uzych
Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University. His area of special professional interest is healthcare. Twitter @LeoUzych