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Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief Paperback – June 27, 2017
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“An especially powerful book. It is not just for those who have suffered a loss. Anyone who's trying to deal with a loss, or anyone who know someone dealing with a loss, (and in truth, isn't that everyone?) will benefit from reading this amazing book.” (Foreword Reviews)
“Simultaneously heartwrenching and uplifting. Cacciatore offers practical guidance on coping with profound and life-changing grief. This book is destined to be a classic, simply the best book I have ever read on the process of grief.” (Huffington Post)
“In this poignant, heartrending, and heart-lifting book, Joannne Cacciatore teaches how loss is transformed to peace, devastating grief to active and practical love. Beautifully, beautifully written, Bearing the Unbearable is for all those who have grieved, will grieve, or support others through bereavement.” (Gabor Maté MD, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts)
“A wise guide—intimate, tender, and fierce—reminding us what it means to fully love. This is a holy book, riddled with insight and compassion. It will bless all of us in our times of sorrow.” (Francis Weller, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief)
“There are sentences in this luminous book that took my breath away. With penetrating insight and tender warmth, Dr. Jo meets the broken-hearted where we live: in an utterly transformed and transformational space. This is the secret potion I have been yearning for, offered from a brimming cup.” (Mirabai Starr, author of Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation)
“A truly remarkable book.” (Robert D. Stolorow, author of Trauma and Human Existence)
“Bearing the Unbearable is an experience more than a book. In recounting many cases from her extraordinary therapy practice devoted to helping people who are undergoing severe and traumatic grief, the book offers the reader an experience that—like grief itself—is painful but for which one will be deeply grateful afterwards. Cacciatore’s amazing book shows us through its many emotionally gripping examples–guaranteed to trigger readers’ own lurking tears—much that is novel and illuminating about the ineffable depth and labyrinthine nature of intense grief.” (Dr. Jerome Wakefield, DSW, PhD, Professor, NYU School of Medicine and author of The Loss of Sadness)
“An approach to grief that moves beyond platitudes and cliché. It offers a way to truly grow through grief that is not a moving beyond but is more of an organic composting and recycling of the soul. It offers hope for those who feel like their loss has disconnected themselves forever from humanity and the circle of life. There is something for everyone in this garden that will restore and rejuvenate. I would highly recommend this book!” (Doug Bremner MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Emory University, and author of The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg)
“At a time when even the most normal of human experiences, such as grief and suffering, are being pathologized and medicated by a bio-psychiatric industry, Bearing the Unbearable is an honest and courageous examination of the most common of human experiences…Dr. Cacciatore’s powerful book doesn’t stop with delineating the process of grief. [It] shows grieving human beings how to reclaim the process as normal and sacred, and how to insist on defining the process for themselves, which leads to powerful healing…This book will become a staple in my practice, and as well as at Warfighter ADVANCE programs.” (Mary Neal Vieten, PhD, ABPP, Executive Director, WARFIGHTER ADVANCE)
“This masterpiece is the greatest gift I could give to someone entrenched in grief, or to the loved ones of the bereaved.” (The Tattooed Buddha)
About the Author
Dr. Joanne Cacciatore has a fourfold relationship with bereavement. She is herself a bereaved mother: her newborn daughter died on July 27, 1994, and that single tragic moment catapulted her unwillingly onto the reluctant path of traumatic grief. For more than two decades, she’s devoted herself to direct practice with grief, helping traumatically bereaved people on six continents. She’s also been researching and writing about grief for more than a decade in her role as associate professor at Arizona State University and director of the Graduate Certificate in Trauma and Bereavement program there. And, in addition, she’s the founder of an international nongovernmental organization, the MISS Foundation dedicated to providing multiple forms of support to families experiencing the death of a child at any age and from any cause, and since 1996 has directed the foundation’s family services and clinical education programs.
Cacciatore is an ordained Zen priest, affiliated with Zen Garland and its child bereavement center outside of New York City. She is in the process of building the a “care-farm” and respite center for the traumatically bereaved, just outside Sedona, Arizona. The care-farm will offer a therapeutic community that focuses on reconnecting with self, others, and nature in the aftermath of loss through gardening, meditation, yoga, group work, animals, and other nonmedicalized approaches. All the animals at the care-farm will have been rescued from abuse and neglect.
She is an acclaimed public speaker and provides expert consulting and witness services in the area of traumatic loss. Her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals such as The Lancet, Social Work and Healthcare, and Death Studies, among others.
She received her PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in psychology from Arizona State University. Her work has been featured in major media sources such as People and Newsweek magazines, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, CNN, National Public Radio, and the Los Angeles Times. She has been the recipient of many regional and national awards for her empathic work and service to people suffering traumatic grief.
She travels quite often but spends most of her time in Sedona, Arizona, with her family and three rescue dogs. She also has three horses that are part of her Rescue Horses Rescue People equine therapy program.
Dr. Jeffrey Rubin is among the leading authorities on the integration of meditation and psychotherapy. He’s the author of Practicing Meditative Psychotherapy and The Art of Flourishing. He lives in New York.
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Another interesting experience that I had as I read this book is that I read it out loud to my husband. He asked me to read it to him because he wanted to know more about that most sacred, bereaved Mama part of me. My husband never had the privilege to meet my children. He knows Jada and Jordan through me. He honors and loves my children, and wants to know them as deeply as possible. Dr. Joanne Cacciatore has given us another tool to explore the grief that we both feel over the loss of my babies.
I met Joanne less than a year after I lost my children. My mom found her blog online and immediately told me that I had to read her words on child loss. I felt a kindred connection to Dr. Jo as soon as I read about her bereaved Mama love and pain. I immediately reached out to her for help and she has been in my life ever since. The fact that her heart is now written into words that I can read whenever I need to is an immeasurable blessing to me. Joanne gives me permission to feel my pain even though I live in a world that wants to tell me that I should be "over it" by now. Joanne encourages me to really FEEL and not just intellectualize my emotions. Joanne speaks about those terrible feelings of self-hatred, and endless suffering, and she gives me a light to move towards. She both recognizes the loss of my children as the most abnormal experience that a mother could ever walk through, and at the same time, normalizes the extreme emotions swelling through my heart and body every second of every day.
To say that I am grateful for this book is an understatement. This book has brought me closer to my children, to my husband, and most importantly, to ME. I will read it again and again, because if I've learned anything, I have learned that grief is not linear. It is full of twists and turns, deep lows, and vibrant highs. Joanne has taught me that deep suffering is the result of deep love, and I love and miss my babies more than I could ever express.
As the author (who speaks from her own personal tragedy of losing a child, and from her life’s work of studying grief, counseling those who are grieving, and teaching about grief at the university level), how grief might be embraced truly is an individual journey. For some, the journey might be enriching. For others, the journey might be a descent into inescapable despair. But what this book makes painfully clear: There is no elixir; there are no good works to accomplish as compensation; there is no 12-step program; there is no way around grief--only through it; there is no conquering grief--rather, mustering the courage to surrender to it; and there are no answers to the question "why" and perhaps no reason even to ask "why."
As this book drills home: Only by avoiding love might one avoid grief--if one loves, one is destined to grieve.
Writing as someone who facilitates support groups for parents whose children have died and as a bereaved parent, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is grieving or who wants to help someone who is. After the deaths of my two oldest sons at the age of 21, the depth of my grief terrified me. I dared not fully surrender to it, afraid of where it might take me and unsure of whether I could ever return to a functional life afterwards. To me, grief was a feeling I suppressed as much as possible, and something I fought like a tiger when I could not escape its clutches. Dr. Cacciatore helped me (in her words) “to understand that monster [grief] isn’t separate from me.” "Bearing the Unbearable" lays bare the process of grief, making it available for inspection and understanding. And seen in the light of day, I found it to be far less frightening.
Some writers are great storytellers and some have a poetic way with words; others are masters of their subject matter. Dr. Cacciatore combined all three talents to produce a book that is loving, informative, unflinching, soothing, honest (sometimes brutally so), and uplifting. Although the book is an easy read and I am a voracious reader, I did not finish it in one sitting. I paused frequently to savor Dr. Jo’s words and let them sink into my heart and soul. I then re-read the book with a highlighter at hand, marking some passages that I believed would be valuable in a support group setting, and other sections that seemed to have been written just for me. Chapters 12 and 18, "Intensity and Coping" and "The Practice of Being With", were inspiring to me as a facilitator. "Early Manifestations of Grief", Chapter 4, is the most heavily highlighted chapter in my copy, and it has proved particularly helpful in group with the newly-bereaved. But Chapter 13, "Contraction and Expansion", truly spoke to my soul. It defined for me in hindsight a process that I have experienced time and again since the deaths of my sons. I came to see that my periods of contraction were not evidence of a failure to cope, but were instead a valuable coping mechanism.
As she is well-acquainted with grief in its many forms, Dr. Cacciatore’s thoughtful words serve to make bereavement less terrifying. Her unique understanding of grief makes me certain that I can navigate this journey, and relying on "Bearing the Unbearable" gives me confidence that I can help others do it, too.
Dr. Cacciatore - Thank you for this book. Harriet Beecher Stowe could have been describing you when she wrote: “There are in this world blessed souls, whose sorrows all spring up into joys for others; whose earthly hopes, laid in the grave with many tears, are the seed from which spring healing flowers and balm for the desolate and the distressed.”