Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief
by Joanne Cacciatore, PhD.
As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’m currently doing an online training on pregnancy and infant. One of our assignments is to read and write a summary on three bereavement books.
Today I’ll be reviewing “Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief” by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore.
Good luck reading this book without tearing up or full-on crying. Dr. Cacciatore is a grief therapist who has encountered hundreds of families grieving all different types of losses (most of them traumatic, it seems from the stories she recounts in the book), and also experienced the loss of her own infant daughter, Cheyenne— a thread that weaves the meaningful lessons and stories in this book together.
Here are a few of my favorite takeaways:
- “This book will not offer you a spiritual bypass; it won’t make it so you don’t have to face the pain of grief— nor should it” (page 2). The author repeatedly reminds me, as a therapist, that my job it not to push my clients to heal or avoid their pain, although many of their well-meaning friends and family members may be urging them to move forward and “get over” the loss (on page 51 she describes our culture as “grief-phobic”). Rather, my job is to create a space for them to experience their pain. “This is grief’s most piercing message: there is no way around— the only way is through” (page 54).
- “We are not either happy or sad. We are not either grieving or grateful. We are not either content or despairing. We are both/and” (page 52). This is a beautiful way to articulate the complexity of emotion, especially during times of pain.
- Dr. Cacciatore introduces a model of grief counseling that does not aim to diminish grief. Rather, she states that when working with bereaved clients, “rather than bringing their subjective appraisal of grief down, I help them increase their ability to cope. It’s an integrative assessment that looks something like below. This tool serves to highlight the fact that there are two separate things at play: what we feel and how able we are to cope with what we feel.” I really appreciate this approach and it will inform the writing of my treatment plans.
Grief intensity (1 least, 10 most)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Ability to cope with grief (1 least, 10 most)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
- Dr. Cacciatore also explained the origin of her foundation’s Kindness Project. They offer printed cards that say “This random act of kindness is done in loving memory of our beautiful child.” The idea is for bereaved parents to do an anonymous random act of kindness (pay for someone’s meal, etc) and leave this card, with their deceased child’s name written on it, for the recipient. I found this to be a touching and beautiful idea as a tangible way for parents to remember their child and allow the memory to become associated with a positive feeling of blessing someone else.
Though the chapters are short, I wouldn’t classify this book as an “easy read” because it invites the readers to experience deep emotions… but it would be a healing book to help families remember they are not alone in their grief and feel validated in their need to sit in their pain and acknowledge it rather than following the cultural pressure to move on. The writing style is vivid and empathetic. The author is obviously an expert in the field of grief as evidenced by the numerous personal and professional examples, and readers also discover toward the end of the book that the author was friends with grief therapy giant Elizabeth Kubler Ross. This is a book that will make you want to hold your loved ones close and feel hopeful for your ability to continue to move through your loss.