Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss by Sameet Kamur, Ph.D. is a wonderful book about coping with any type of loss. I like that it addresses the many types of loss that we experience throughout life such as breaking up, moving away, growing apart, and of course, when someone passes away. If you’re already familiar with the traditions of mindfulness then this book will be a great fit for you. If you are not familiar with the traditions of mindfulness Dr. Kamur does an excellent job of introducing you to this wonderful practice. Though I focus on cognitive behavioral therapy in my practice, mindfulness has been and continues to be one of the primary coping skills that I teach for distress tolerance. I often feel like CBT and mindfulness are two sides of the same coin. They are how we learn to not let our thoughts and feelings control us.
Dr. Kamur describes loss as rupture to our identity. We identify ourselves by our roles and how we relate to those around us: I am a mother, I am a caregiver, I am good athlete, etc… When we lose someone, or go through a big transition, our identity is changed. Understanding our loss means integrating that loss into a new identity. As Dr. Kamur says: “Understanding your loss may sound as if it involves thinking a lot about what has happened in the past, but it is really more about deciding how to live your life in the future.” He further explains “Finding meaning in your pain involves asking yourself who you want to be as a result of your grief.”
Dr. Kamur also outlines 5 things that everyone working through loss needs to be able to eventually say; whether you speak it, share it, or write it. They are:
- I’m sorry. We all have some regrets because none of us are perfect.
- I forgive you. Not to be confused with forgetting, this is about compassion and accepting the other person for who they are.
- I love you. “Love is why you are grieving.” This is an affirmation of the relationship.
- Thank you. List the things you’ve learned or how you have changed because of this relationship. Share the things that made your relationship special.
- Good Bye. Saying goodbye doesn’t mean your grief is over, and there is never a ‘right’ time to do it. Saying goodbye is a recognition of the loss, of your grief, and of the importance of your relationship.
Dr. Kamur also simply explains that there are only 2 processes to deal with when grieving: acute grief and subtle grief. Acute grief is that overwhelming flood of pain and emptiness. He explains that the only thing you need to do when experiencing acute grief is to simply feel. Of course, he wants you to learn to feel mindfully. He reminds us that trying to push the pain away, run from it, distract, or wallow in it only magnifies the pain. When the grief is acute, simply feel, don’t fight it. When the grief is subtle, which is most other times, the process is to be mindful of what brings us meaning, what makes us feel at peace or fulfilled. This is the process of integrating the loss into our new identity. Dr. Kamur also reminds us that sometimes we get stuck ruminating about why things happened the way they did. He states: “The only certain answer in the face of loss is not how or why it happened, but what the nature of your life afterward will be.”
The end of the book is full of hope and optimism about using the transformative power of grief to change our life for the better. I am sure that those chapters are better appreciated during periods of subtle grief, for in the moments of acute grief it can be difficult to see any silver lining.
Finally, there are 2 main messages that stuck with me the most from this book. The first is that grief is not logical or linear. It is like a spiral staircase. Sometimes you feel you are going up and that you “are past it” only to turn sharply and go in a different direction or back down. This is normal and to be expected. There is no set timeline for grief, there are no stages to work through in a certain order. Grief is not something you get over, but something you learn to integrate into your new identity. And second, in Dr. Kamur’s own words: “Simply put, it is only without love that there is no grief. Love is the fuel that drives grief. Rather than point to a deficit or weakness, grief only serves to highlight the depth of our capacity to love and be loved. Just as love depends on the courage to share yourself with another person, grieving mindfully depends on the courage to accept your own feelings.” – Dr. Kamur
I encourage you to check out the book from your local library! In fact many libraries even have the books available as ebooks for download! All of the books I have reviewed here I borrowed from my local city and county libraries.