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Doug Reviews "Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief"

Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief by David Kessler

In the era of my initial work in hospitals—most of what we knew about the trauma of death and dying and how it affected people came from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Her ground breaking 1969 book,On Death and Dying, was assigned in my college courses in the early seventies, and focused primarily on the stages associated with terminal illness. The rest of the title: What the Dying Have to Teach Us—was compelling, but it took a long time to interpret and apply this model to our own experiences, let alone understand how to help those in mourning. Kurt was the first terminal AIDS patient I met in the hospital. It was at that moment of meeting that I began to realize how little I had learned from my education thus far. It is fortunate that authors and trainers like David Kessler came along to extend our understanding.

Through his past collaborative efforts with Dr. Kübler-Ross, and especially in his new book, David Kessler offers a satisfying and broad-ranged response to questions about how we can be with others and with ourselves through the process. It doesn’t come naturally for any of us, but Kessler offers a model of respect-filled listening and response that is a valuable resource for any reader.

This isn’t a how-to- or ordinary self-help-book—it takes us further than we have been before with the stages that are conceptually embedded in our common conversation about loss. It applies what Kessler and his associates have learned to a full array of losses. Finding Meaning contains stories of his workshop attendees and clients that are vivid and moving. He provides an authentic demonstration of the acceptance of grieving persons no matter what their background. I liked how he connects with a variety of individuals based on their perspective, not some forced, manipulative format. Kessler’s uncomplicated, yet remarkably skillful exchanges with those in pain, offer a fresh outlook on our own everyday interactions. The gentle manner in which he addresses the family members fosters an appreciation of his firm yet compassionate attention to those traumatized by loss. You have the solid sense these accounts emerge from real encounters. And thankfully, there is no clinical verbiage flaunted to mystify readers!

And then, the Sixth Stage. Out of David Kessler’s own loss in the tragic death of his son, you observe how he rises into his own sense of potential meaning. It is not something you want to miss. Especially his thoughts on moving into love, taking in the good, and the legacy of loss. Concepts I personally resisted as I confronted my own loss, for a lot of reasons, but we learn are deeply healing. I’m fine without going to religion for answers, I’m glad he doesn’t overdo that aspect. We, in our remembering, in our arts of connection, will find our own course of rebuilding with meaning.

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