Book Review: “The Grief Recovery Handbook, 20th Anniversary Expanded Edition: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses including Health, Career, and Faith” by John W. James and Russell Friedman

A comprehensive guide to moving through loss
"The Grief Recovery Handbook"


“The Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses Including Health, Career and Faith” has become a classic of the genre, a  comprehensive resource guide to dealing with one of the most difficult emotions we have to process in this life. Its authors, John W. James and Russell Friedman, draw upon research and their own experiences of loss to come up with plans of action to move through and come out the other end of shattering experiences. James’s premise is that “with correct information and correct choices, a person can recover from any significant loss.” This book is not an analysis of grief, a journey of intellectualizing the process of recovery. Rather, it is focused on action steps to lead you through the often treacherous waters of recovery.

The authors make it clear in the first chapter that they don’t believe that intellectualizing grief is the answer, though, they say, we live in a society that socializes us to do so. One cannot recover without confronting emotional pain, and that’s why the authors encourage their readers to “stay open to grief.” They also emphasize in the first chapter that recovery requires action. “Recovery from loss is achieved by a series of small and correct choices made by the griever,” write the authors.

John W. James author of "Grief Recovery Handbook"

Author John W. James

Chapter two breaks down what the authors believe are misconceptions about the grieving process. They refrain from using the word “survivor” to describe someone that has outlived someone else, explaining that they believe the word survivor is dangerous because it can end up defining the griever, causing them to constantly revisit the loss that they are attempting to recover from and thus keep them stuck in a rut. The authors warn against the trap of defining yourself by your pain rather than focusing on completing the “unfinished emotional aspects of the relationship” that has been lost. They also deconstruct Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five emotional stages of grief. They do not believe that most people who experience a loss are in denial about the loss: “In all our years working with grievers, we have yet to be approach by someone who is in ‘denial’ that a loss has occurred.” They also reject the idea that grief always entails going through an anger stage. 

As an alternative to Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief, the authors present their own list of what they call “common responses.” These include reduced concentration, a sense of numbness, disrupted sleep patters, changed eating habits, and the roller coaster of  emotional energy. “There are no stages of grief,” the authors say, and remind their readers that there are no absolutes in grief, “no reactions so universal that all, or even most, people will experience them.” Because every relationship is unique, so is every process of grieving.

Russell Friedman, author of "Grief Recovery Handbook"

Author Russell Friedman

The book goes on to outline activities for confronting one’s grief head on. One such activity is the charting of a personal loss history graph, designed to help the griever reflect on losses that they’ve experienced and which continue to affect them in their day-to-day lives. The idea is that many people have not actually confronted the grief that they’ve already experienced. This, as they’ve tried to minimize and dismiss their feelings around these losses, unresolved grief continues to have negative impacts on their lives. 

The authors also extoll the benefits of working with a partner during the grieving process, ideally someone who is working on their own loss. They then delineate guidelines for partners to talk about feelings and make commitments, such as committing to total honesty and absolute confidentiality.

The first homework assignment the authors give once a grief partnership is established, is to list cultural myths about grieving that limit the ability of a person to effectively deal with grief (a major theme of the handbook). Another homework assignment requires the grief partners to list and discuss “short term energy relievers,” or behaviors that they’ve engaged in to cope with their feelings — such as the excess consumption of food and alcohol and other behaviors that ultimately serve to do nothing more than muffle emotions.

The 20th anniversary expanded edition of this classic includes a new Part Four that contains new material on dealing with loss of faith, loss of career and financial issues, loss of health, and growing up in an alcoholic or dysfunctional home. 

I appreciated the practicality of this book’s approach to moving through loss. The authors are able to successfully deliver their practical, action-oriented guidance while maintaining a compassionate voice throughout the book. I felt myself softening in response to their empathic tone, which allowed me to become fully engrossed in the material.    

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Woman Posts A “Note Before I Die” On Eve Of Her Death

Holly Butcher posted the letter on Facebook to impart some final thoughts

Holly Butcher of Grafton, New South Wales, Australia, died on Jan. 4, 2018, at the age of 27. On the eve of her death, she posted a “note before I die” letter on Facebook summarizing a few important lessons she’d learned during her short life. Since then, her “note before I die” has gone viral, reaching tens of thousands of people, and has caused many to rethink what’s important in their lives.

Selfie photo of Holly Butcher who wrote "a note before I die", wearing a coat standing in front of a rocky pillar with snow on the ground

Holly Butcher

Holly died of Ewing sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that generally afflicts teenagers and young adults. Many 27-year-olds are busy figuring out their lives, possibly getting married and starting families, or establishing new careers. Unfortunately, Holly was unable to do some of those things. But she left a powerful gift that is now accessible to the world.

Statements like, “Live every day like it’s your last,” “You never know how long you’ve got,” and “Don’t sweat the small stuff” have become trite homilies that people hear regularly. As cliché as they are, though, there’s a reason why they’ve remained ubiquitous in our culture. Holly’s letter demonstrates the importance of these sayings in ways most of us could not.

“That’s the thing about life,” she writes in her “note before I die.” “It is fragile, precious and unpredictable and each day is a gift, not a given right…I’m 27 now. I don’t want to go. I love my life. I am happy…I owe that to my loved ones. But the control is out of my hands.”

The letter is upsetting to read knowing that she is no longer alive. But her intention in sharing it has certainly been met with gratitude and appreciation. A look at the comment sections on Facebook and the numerous sites that have posted her letter exemplify how much it has affected people.

Holly writes in her “note before I die” about how she wishes people would not be so fixated on frivolous things like being stuck in traffic, breaking a fake nail or getting a haircut that’s too short.

“Those times you are whinging about ridiculous things,” she writes, “just think about someone who is really facing a problem. Be grateful for your minor issue and get over it…I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go.”

The small, fleetingly annoying things aren’t significant in the long run, so it’s best to get over them as quickly as possible.

Words of Advice

Holly Butcher wanted to leave something behind that would benefit the people around her. Among many things, Holly admonishes those reading to help others regularly, and says she wishes she had done this more often herself.

Photo of Holly Butcher drinking a cocktail sitting in a blue beach chair long before she wrote a "note before I die"


“Give, give, give,” she writes. “It is true that you gain more happiness doing things for others than doing them for yourself.”

Yet she also places importance on doing things for yourself: “Be ruthless for your own well-being,” she writes early in her “note before I die.”

She implores us to listen to music, cuddle our dogs, travel, eat cake, talk with our friends (put down your phone), and say no to things if we don’t want to do them.

Holly also advises us to be wary of placing too much importance on social media and instant gratification. It’s vital we truly live in each moment, she says. Getting the perfect picture to share with everyone else is not the treasure we really need. Life is not meant to be lived through a screen.

Despite its many pitfalls, the advent of social media has undeniably given us all a platform through which we can share our inner thoughts and feelings. And at times this is worth celebrating. Holly’s letter has bequeathed sound advice to and resonated with many who might otherwise never have heard her voice. That’s something we can all appreciate.

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Our Monthly Tip: How to Use Self-Hypnosis to Manage Pain

Take control of pain through self-hypnosis

Our Tip of the Month

Many dying people experience pain, and their caregivers may have to cope with pain as well. For instance, caregivers may experience tension headaches or joint and muscle aches from lifting and turning the person they are caring for. Self-hypnosis offers a way to ease and manage pain.

Woman listening to music for self-hypnosis


How-to Suggestion

According to WebMD, the first step to self-hypnosis is to get into the right mindset. When you are more experienced, you will be able to hypnotize yourself even if you are upset or in a lot of pain. But while you are just learning self-hypnosis, try to pick a time when you are calm and relatively comfortable. If you take pain medicine, for example, wait until it is just starting to work.

When you are ready to begin, sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Make sure your clothes are not too tight and that your hair is not pulled back to sharply.

Next, put yourself in a relaxed state. There are many ways to accomplish this. Some people listen to a favorite piece of music while others watch the flame flickering in a fireplace or on a candle. You might try focusing on your breathing or thinking a single word or a phrase such as, “I am peaceful and calm.” Each time you practice self-hypnosis, it will be easier to enter this relaxed state.

A woman works with a hypnotherapist


When you are relaxed, you can begin giving yourself hypnotic suggestions. Start with one suggestion at a time. Use present-tense instead of future-tense. For instance, “I am managing my pain” as opposed to “I will manage my pain.” Another idea is to suggest doing activities that are incompatible with pain such as, “I take the dog out for a walk once a day.” Think of the phrase you have selected for this exercise for about five minutes. Then allow yourself to come back to a full waking state.

The Arthritis Foundation claims these self-hypnosis sessions usually last between 10 and 20 minutes, but they may take a little longer while you’re learning. You should feel results after about four to 10 sessions. If you have trouble reaching a relaxed state, consider working with a therapist who specializes in hypnosis. Some people cannot let their guard down enough to be hypnotized. There are many ways to control pain, and self-hypnosis is only one of them.

If you are in pain and would like to use less medicine, or if the medicine you are taking isn’t working, consider self-hypnosis. It may help, and it can’t hurt.

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Wishing You a Valentine’s Day Filled with Love and Memories

~ Everyone at SevenPonds
Heart made of flowers for valentines day filled with love



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Cancer Patient Heather Mosher Marries 18 Hours Before her Death

The dying bride's vows were her final words, which she followed with a triumphant gesture
Red balloons of love for Heather Mosher


Surely Heather Mosher’s worst of times began the day doctors confirmed she had breast cancer. That day, however, did not end in deep disappointment. Nor did her life.

On December 23, 2016 Heather received both the dire medical news and a marriage proposal.

“She didn’t know I was going to propose that night,” her fiancé David Mosher told a local Hartford news station a year later. “But I said to myself, she needs to know she’s not going to go down this road alone.”

Mosher arranged for a horse-drawn carriage ride. He popped the question under a New England street light.

Still, within days Heather Mosher learned the diagnosis had been upgraded to “triple negative,” one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. Despite weekly trips to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, surgeries, chemotherapy and natural therapies, the cancer spread to Heather’s brain. In October, she was put on a ventilator.

Heather Mosher's wedding photo


Determined to become husband and wife, the couple set a wedding date of Dec. 30, 2017, but doctors urged them to perform the ceremony sooner. They moved up the date to December 22 — a day short of the one-year anniversary of her engagement and diagnosis.

Heather and David married at Hartford’s Saint Francis Hospital chapel, joined by three generations of family and friends. Bridesmaid Christina Karas told  TODAY ,”I was with her every single day at the hospital that week, and I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate. She wanted me to be in a dress, and I just had to get into wedding mode because my heart was in ‘losing my best friend’ mode. I just thought, ‘For Heather, I’m going to do this’.”

After the couple exchanged vows, Heather, bedridden, raised her arms in an amazing triumphant gesture. The photo, captured by the bridesmaid, went viral.

“We were losing her as we were all standing there, thinking, to hold onto this, because this was the last she had to give,” Karas said, adding “. . .  but I’m glad this story has brought hope to so many people. This person was in her last moments and still feeling all this joy.”

Heather Mosher died 18 hours after the ceremony.

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“When we fully honor our many losses, our lives become more able to embody the wild joy that aches to leap from our hearts into the shimmering world.”

- Francis Weller

Man standing with arms wide open on a peak looking at sky

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