2 out of 4 stars
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When your spouse dies, you instantly earn 100 points – the highest value on the psychological scale that measures human stress. Losing a spouse is considered the most stressful event that can befall a human. Author Kathleen Ho has earned those 100 points, and she shares her strategies for moving beyond grief in her 2020 book, Living Forward After Loss: Rebuilding Your Life After Losing Your Life Partner.
After 10 years of marriage, Ho lost her husband David to a stroke. She relates aspects of her own grief process and reassures readers that the pain will lessen and life will eventually feel more tolerable and even joyful.
Ho offers her personal advice as well as some cognitive-behavioral methods to assist readers with navigating grief. Everyone’s grief process is unique in duration and intensity, and Ho encourages fully feeling the whole spectrum of emotion. She also recommends journaling your thoughts and feelings and exercising regularly for the neuro-chemical benefits.
Once the author’s grief had dissipated some, she began re-engaging in activities she enjoyed and eventually was able to honor her partner’s legacy by educating others about the dangers of high blood pressure. Living Forward wraps up with strategies for re-entering the social world, embracing gratitude and even finding love again.
I enjoyed several aspects of this book. Kathleen Ho’s personal story is heartbreaking and will resonate with anyone grieving a departed spouse. Some of the strategies for moving beyond the grief are time-tested and will offer readers guideposts during an emotional time. The do’s and don’ts of supporting others in grief is a valuable inclusion as people invariably say precisely the wrong thing.
The book is presented as a self-help book. Kathleen Ho’s authentic desire to help others through their grief is evident in her writing, That said, I think the book would have worked better as a memoir. Sharing one’s experience is inspiring, but prescribing methods for working through the complexities of deep grief may be over-reaching for a layperson. The author has researched the topic and includes a substantial bibliography but at times seems to not understand the full scope of her advice.
Ho, who has no stated psychology training, recommends strategies that worked for her but misses that some suggestions may not be indicated for others. The importance of having a positive attitude is emphasized throughout the book. Ho reiterates the importance of accepting and fully experiencing the pain of grief but frequently confounds the guidance, as with this flippant caution about dating “bitter people with too much baggage who cry about their late spouse.”
The author writes, “You will not be afraid of anything in your life anymore,” once you have worked through grief. Even if such a thing were possible, stating it as a certainty is naïve at best. Late in the book, Ho writes that a year and a half out from her husband’s death she is still afraid when she thinks of the future. These seeming contradictions diminish the author’s credibility and may confuse readers earnestly seeking solutions.
The book is structured well and is divided into manageable chapters and sections. The first 40 pages contain 10 errors, mostly in the form of subject-verb disagreement and syntax problems. Considering the frequency of the errors and the underdeveloped advice, I award Living Forward After Loss 2 out of 4 stars.
Despite the author’s pure intentions, the book falls short as a self-help effort. Anyone who has lost a spouse, however, will feel an affinity with Ho’s experience and may derive some helpful ideas for navigating the grief process.
Living Forward After Loss
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