Texan Patricia Luce Chapman has been to hell and back, and lived to tell the tale. Her perspective on overcoming the grief of someone she loved dearly is embodied in her recommendation: "Be like a starfish and grow new legs."
This is a book best read now, before you find yourself in a grief scenario. You will tuck some of her advice away and if, God forbid, you lose a spouse, as she did, or a family member or dear friend, you will recall some of her suggestions.
If Survivor's Guide to Grief were a cold "how-to" list, one would be easily able to ignore it even though the advice might be sound. Instead, unforgettably, Chapman brings to life the last days she shared with her husband, Brewster, their daily routine, their shared marital customs, their incredible bond, even their petty quarrels. Her husband died in slow but recognizable stages of diabetes. There were signs - some she should have known, others she knew but denied, others that she didn't know and with which she acquaints the reader - that indicated the end was near. In the back of her book is an appendix outlining such signs, including a peculiar odor - she calls it "old folks' home" smell - associated with ketoacidosis, which sets in when cells begin the break down throughout the body.
Chapman describes many of the aspects of grief that we may all, at some time, have to face. Her husband, a lawyer, remarkably left no will. It would have been so much easier if he had. The paperwork, duties associated with taxes and the estate, was tedium of almost tortuous proportions that had to be dealt with in weeks after the death. The memorial service – how to get through it, what purpose it serves – is also examined. For Chapman, against her family's advice, sleeping in the same bed where she and her husband had slept brought comfort, and surprisingly, going through his clothes brought a sense of tenderness instead of the pain she'd anticipated.
Chapman went through a "grief year" on an emotional rollercoaster. She advises, "Initially, drift like a damaged ship waiting for the tide to get you across the reefs." Make no major decisions that can be deferred. Don't imagine that moving or some other sort of big change will make you feel better – it will only bog you down more. Chapman had a traumatic experience the first time she visited Brewster's grave; later she found serenity in talking to him there. There are no rules; you can do what you want and what you need. Chapman found it hard to chew any food in the first weeks after Brewster died, so she even makes recommendations of how a widow can ingest basic nutrients without much hassle, from peanut butter sandwiches to boiled chicken. Bottom line: "you've got to eat more than cookies."
As the year passes and the pain lessens, Chapman suggests working out, having some grief therapy, beginning to knit together a social life, and, mainly, beginning to construct a new you. Make a list of things you'd like to do (that you can afford) and another list of things you are tired of and don't care to do anymore. Start working on it (not a bad exercise for those of us who are not grieving, come to think of it).
This is a book without conclusions. It was written, one senses, with the sincere intention of providing a warm helping hand to those who, like Chapman, must traverse the lonely path of loss. She has given a map to guide us, with many forking roads along the way. As I said before, read this book BEFORE you find yourself on that journey. You will thank the author, and thank yourself.