By John Author
“This book will not offer you a spiritual bypass; it won’t make it so that you don’t have to face the pain of grief—nor should it… What this book will do, I hope, is to provide a safe space to feel, to be with your understandably broken heart.”
That’s Dr. Joanne Cacciatore’s take on her book, Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief. This book is an essential read for anyone who’s been touched by the icy talons of grief. Since everyone will eventually experience grief, this is really a must-read for everyone on earth.
Joanne is a Zen Buddhist priest, but her book doesn’t “wreak of Zen” as the old saying goes. I didn’t even know she was a priest until I read her bio at the end. She doesn’t wave her lineage papers in the reader’s face. She communicates with the reader at eye level, as a fellow traveler in the lineage of universal grief. She weaves her and her clients’ interactions with grief into the overall narrative of the book, often times using these exchanges as a way to drive a point home.
So her piece isn’t just a matter-of-fact collection of essays, it also contains glimpses of how these subjects play out in day-to-day life.
Dr. Cacciatore frequently points out how we Westerners live in a grief-intolerant culture. “Many grievers feel implicit or explicit social pressure to ‘feel better’ or ‘move on,’ and the incongruence between the messages of how they should feel and the inner wisdom of what they actually do feel causes many to doubt their own hearts.”
Bosses, co-workers, doctors, therapists, friends and even family members try to rush us forward. They don’t want to hear about how we’re still grieving, they don’t want to remember that everything’s impermanent; they don’t want to call up their own fears or their latent grief.
That’s because grief is unpleasant.
Well, that’s putting it mildly; grief is heart-wrenching, devastating and overwhelming. It turns our entire lives upside down and forces us to re-evaluate everything. It demands our attention, devours our energy and shatters all illusions of stability, security, and control. So, it makes sense that we hide from it and that we brow-beat well-worn platitudes into others in order to coerce them into hiding as well.
But Joanne shows us how unaddressed grief can ruin us—how it can ruin an entire society. A civilization that marginalizes grief is a civilization that is unable to cultivate respect, gratitude, humility, wisdom, and compassion.
Just as unaddressed grief stunts us, addressing grief can enlighten us. It can open us up to liberatng insights that we never suspected, that we could never even experience without grief. That doesn’t mean that grief for wisdom is a fair trade—most of us would sacrifice wisdom for our loved one’s lives in a hot minute—it just means that there’s more to grief than meets the eye.
I keep saying, “addressed and unaddressed,” because there’s no such thing as overcoming grief or getting over it. We learn to cope, to grow, and to honor our dead; but we don’t get over it.
Joanne convinced me to communicate with my own latent grief. I found myself remembering the friends, family, and fur babies long passed. She taught me that these memories aren’t a burden, they aren’t something to lock away in the cobwebbed parts of my mind. They’re how we love our dead, how we pay tribute to them, and we can use these memories of the dead to grow closer to the living.
Dr. Cacciatore’s approach to grief involves observation, acceptance, and surrender. We have to watch our grief, be with our grief, and then let our grief inspire beneficial actions. Grief is the source of compassion because it’s, “the single most unifying aspect of the human experience.” Buddha once asked a woman to go door to door in order to find one household that hasn’t grieved; she couldn’t find such a place.
Bearing the Unbearable had me weeping at times, but they were healthy tears—rejuvenating tears. Joanne tenderly takes us by the hand and walks with us through the dark and dusty recesses that are the source of our day-to-day stress, apathy, indecision, intolerance, and fear. She knows where we’re at and, page by page, she’s right there with us.
This masterpiece is the greatest gift I could give to someone entrenched in grief, or to the loved ones of the bereaved. Bearing the Unbearable goes on sale June 27th. You can pre-order it now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Wisdom Publications.
Photo: (Wisdom Publications)
Editor: Dana Gornall
Feel free to check out his Facebook page, his blog "Salty Dharma", and/or his non-Buddhist poetry at "The Writer's Block."
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