Book: A Journey Into Bereavement for Parents & Families
Besides John DeFrain's book Stillborn, this book by Henya Shanun-Klein, Ph.D. (formerly: Kagan) is the most comprehensive and enlightening book I've read yet -- and I've read a LOT of books about bereavement and grief since my son died 3+ years ago!
Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) has a special insight to this. She is a bereaved parent. And she's a Ph.D.. If you have ever dealt with a bereavement counselor or therapist who pathologized your grief -- if you are dealing with family and friends who want you to just "get over it" -- then you really, really, really, really need to read this book! Even if you have had great support all along, this book is amazing and a one-of-a-kind treasure.
It was an interesting read for me because Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan)'s work mirrors a lot of what I have come to conclude for myself and what I offer as support to other bereaved parents. I have never cared about getting confirmation for these conclusion, but I have encountered my share of academic-heads who put on the pathological-speak and tried to convert me to some sort of method for "healing my grief" and "finding closure" for this process. Well, now I know that I should just keep an extra copy of Gili's Book around. And when I encounter one of the academic-heads again, I'm throwing the book at them -- literally! (When you read Gili's Book, you'll see that I have just made an "inward step" with that statement -- and when I physically throw the book at them, then I will have taken an "outward step". Read Chapter 8 of Gili's Book.)
Seriously, it's hard to know where to start with this review. The book is only 192 pages, but it is easily worth its weight in gold. The first half of the book is Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan)'s dialogue with her deceased daughter Gili -- and it is a BRILLIANT and LOVING model that explicitly shows what it means to have a *healthy* and *continued* relationship with your child after they are dead! And it is a sort of "warm & fuzzy" introduction to the depths of life after the death of a child. The second half of the book moves into some hard core academic-speak, but the notations and quotations are worth it!!!! Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) takes the reality of parental bereavement and puts it into a model whose goal is READJUSTMENT!!! She takes on all the classic pathologies of grief, the closure concepts, the stages, and more. EVERY PERSON ON THE PLANET DOING ANY KIND OF THERAPY SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO READ THIS!
Let's just start by sharing the opening statement of the book:
Hello!!! Finally!!! And the book just gets better from there. I literally have every other page marked in some way, so instead of telling you everything, I'll just give some highlights -- then get yourself a copy and mark it up for your own journey.
Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) acknowledges "visions" or "premonitions" that parents may have before the death of their child. She had them herself. (page 17, 73, 75) She has worked with many bereaved parents who had them.
Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) acknowledges what we have defined in our Dictionary of Loss here at KotaPress as "unsuicidal" -- she says, "I would still rather be with Gili than on this Earth." (page 1) And throughout the book she comes back to this -- the wish to be with your child is normal -- it does not necessarily mean you want to commit suicide -- but your child is dead -- and you do long to be with them. Hence, the term "unsuicidal" in our Loss Dictionary. And finally we now have a Ph.D. who in writing describes a "normal" part of grief by saying things like, "It is important that the bereaved parents cope with their grief by experiencing the pain to its full intensity." (page 4) (She does also talk about determining the differences between depression vs deep sadness. And we always encourage you to seek help if that "unsuicidal" pattern moves to a "suicidal" one.)
Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) acknowledges the need for "linking objects" which is something we have advocated here at KotaPress in our call for support people to help bereaved parents to create tangible items with which to remember their children. Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan)'s Gili was killed when she was 11 years old, and so she has kept many tangible things such as Gili's bracelet which Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) wears, Gili's art work which Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) keeps on display and other things she refers to a "linking objects" that contribute to the bereaved parents' continued relationship with their child.(page 137) In our work here at KotaPress where we work with so many bereaved parents who have lost babies to SIDS or stillbirth or miscarriage, we try to get caregivers to help parents create that needed tangibility! Provide memory boxes through the Memory Box Project, keep copies of Mrs. Duck and The Woman on hand to give, encourage families to take photos, get footprints and locks of hair whenever possible. If you don't believe me on the importance of these items, get a copy of Gili's Book for a second opinion!
Even as Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) moves into the second part of the book which is more didactic, she continues her interaction with Gili as a force behind the mission of writing the book and fleshing out the ideas presented.
Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) acknowledges the need for bereaved parents to continue mentioning their child's name! (page 93) She talks about the inward and outward steps we take. Inward, in my own process, I wrote. Outward, I published the writing to share -- and published them under the imprint of a company called KotaPress. My son's name was Dakota. Naming this company KotaPress provided me with a way to say his name constantly and everyday that I do work for and about KotaPress. Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) addresses this when she says, "I talk about Gili even with those who do not want to hear. I find all kinds of reasons to mention her name every day. This behavior is not dictated by compulsion. I made a conscious decision to continue talking about Gili. It is my way of commemorating her, but it is also a message that I'm trying to deliver: Gili was, still is, and will always be extremely important to me." (page 104) Finally, a Ph.D. to corroborate that our parenthood doesn't end when our children's hearts stop beating!
Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) takes on the notions of "recovery" and "closure" directly. She confirms for us that grief after the death of a child is a life-long period of "readjustment" to whatever we make of our lives after the deaths of our children. She offers the following, "It is my conviction that parental bereavement is a never-ending process, with no detachment from the deceased child and no timetables, distinct stages, phase, or tasks to be accomplished." (page 97) And Shanun-Klein (formerly: Kagan) is adamant about this throughout the text. She fully acknowledges that we are living every holiday, every birthday, every plain old day, for the rest of our lives without our children -- and therefore, "...bereaved parents never stop grieving as long as they live..." (page 119) AND that, "Bereavement is a healthy reaction to loss." (page 114)
I could go on and on until I've re-capped the entire book. But this is all just my personal reaction and identification with another bereaved parent and my being unendingly grateful for FINALLY getting some validation within the "academic-speak" paradigm. You really can't miss with this one. I'm sure you'll have a million other "A-ha!" moments when you read Gili's Book, too. You just need to read it. Gili's Book is an important turn-key for raising awareness and changing societal expectations and ideas about bereaved parents and how we support them. GET IT! You will not be sorry.
Bottom Line: A valuable to tool for inward validation and outward steps toward changing the ways we as individuals and as a society provide care for bereaved parents!