Book Review: “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye” by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D

Two women describe their experiences of losing loved ones to unexpected death

Cover of the book I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye shows moon over oceanOriginally published in 2000 and updated in 2008, “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye” is a book about coping with and healing after the sudden death of someone you love. It is written by two survivors of sudden loss: Brook Noel, whose brother Caleb died suddenly from an allergic reaction to a bee sting while on a fishing trip; and Pam Blair, whose ex-husband and the father of her child collapsed and died almost instantly from a cerebral aneurysm. They relate their stories and write candidly about the months and years following their respective losses, sharing a great deal of practical, helpful guidance along the way.

When it was initially published 16 years ago, “I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye” was a groundbreaking book. Although psychological theorists had been grappling with and writing about grief for decades, there were at the time few resources for laypersons who were struggling to come to terms with sudden, unexpected, traumatic loss. Today, many books and online resources are available to help grievers navigate those uncharted waters, yet few do a more comprehensive job of providing practical, knowledgeable, helpful advice and support to those who are struggling with overwhelming grief.

Photo of author Pamela Blair

Pamela Blair , PhD
(Credit: amazon.com)

The book begins with Noel and Blair describing their personal losses and the feelings they experienced in those first terrible moments when they realized their loved ones had died. Their stories are both heartbreaking and instantly relatable: The reader understands immediately that these two women speak from a deep, personal knowledge of what it is to endure a tragic, shocking loss.

From there, it moves on to a detailed examination of the myriad physical and psychological reactions people may have to grief, from shock and numbness to confusion, distraction, anger, and fear (to name just a few.) The authors painstakingly address almost every possible scenario a griever might experience in a number of different ways, including a question-and-answer section; a list of 27 myths and misconceptions about grief; and a detailed chapter on helping children cope with the death of someone close. Later, they discuss how grief differs depending on our relationship to the person who has died — how losing a parent is different from losing a sibling, a good friend, a spouse or a child.

Photo of Brook Noel

Brook Noel
(Credit: goodreads.com)

Woven throughout the book are personal stories — short vignettes offered by the authors and others who have suffered through tragic loss and come out, changed yet still breathing, the other side. One of the most touching is the poem “Three Weeks to the Day,” written by Caleb’s mother shortly after his death, in which she describes “the split second when daylight savings time became eternity…the day the sun rose for the last time.” Another is “Pathfinder,” by Marilyn Houston, who struggled with depression for years after the sudden death of her husband of only seven years:

“You learn to take a little bit
extra on the in-breath
just in case you come up short
when heartbreak comes…

You learn to speak the language
of the heart more clearly
to the ones you love
because there’s so many ways the night can come
and stop you in your tracks,
so many ways
the boot can crush the rose. “

Each story is intensely personal yet at the same time universal, which is fitting, because that is a precise description of what grief and loss are — personally devastating, unique to each individual, yet at the same time a shared human experience to which every being on the planet who has lost someone they loved deeply can relate.

If you have experienced the sudden loss of a loved one, or you know someone who is dealing with such a loss, I recommend that you get your hands on a copy of this book. Better yet, buy several copies…one thing we know for certain about life is that death and grief are inevitable. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

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