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Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  205 ratings  ·  39 reviews
In Four Funerals and a Wedding, Smolowe jostles preconceptions about caregiving, defies cliche´s about losing loved ones, and reveals a stunning bottom line: far from being uncommon, resilience like hers is the norm among the recently bereaved. With humor and quiet wisdom, and with a lens firmly trained on what helped her tolerate and rebound from so much sorrow, she offer ...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by She Writes Press
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Jonathan Smolowe
Apr 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Awesome book that gives a whole new perspective on handling grief. There are no rules! Her story allowed me to let go and move on. There is no one way to grieve. Jill's writing is clear and her story puts perspective on a most difficult subject.

This is a great book for anyone, whether you are personally dealing with the terminal illness or death or a loved one, or care about someone who is.
Bob Schwartz
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A refreshing perspective on grief and new love

When I lost my wife of almost forty years, I knew that I did not want to become the stereotypical widower. I didn't want to wear black, I didn't want to become a hermit, I didn't want to live a life alone. I knew that I needed to continue with my life. But, I worried that my reactions were out of sync with society's views on recent loss, and I found no books and articles that mirrored my thinking. Then I came across this Four Funerals and a Wedding:
Gabi Coatsworth
Nov 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
This was a terrific book, especially for me right now.Jill Smolowe describes the turns her life takes as first her husband and then three other relatives die within a year. Unlike other 'misery' memoirs, this book displays the resilience that the author says about 50% of bereaved people show. As a resilient person myself, I needed to hear that not only can I grieve and be happy at the same time, but that I'm not the only one to be doing so. ...more
Jul 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book was just what I needed in my time of grief to have permission to grieve in whatever way I need to.
Elaine Mansfield
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
'Four Funerals and a Wedding' is a powerful story of uncomplicated, unencumbered grief and the resilience most of us have when we face life's losses.

Jill Smolowe's book focuses on life during her husband’s illness and after his death as she juggles the needs of her daughter, her career, and other family members in crisis. She shows how one woman handles the impossible while holding on to her own dear life.

I’m deeply moved by Smolowe's unsentimental devotion to her husband: “In all my life, I hav
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
How you approach the illness and death of a loved one seems like a no-brainer (You do what you have to do, right?), until you find yourself asking, "Am I feeling what I should be feeling?" In her memoir FOUR FUNERALS AND A WEDDING, Jill Smolowe shows us how dealing with grief is as individual as we are, and I, for one, am relieved to hear it said. Jill happens to be the older sister of my college friend Ann, one of four family members Jill lost in a dreadful 17-month period. Ann passed away in 2 ...more
Jane Guyn
May 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you’ve ever felt hesitant about how to comfort a newly widowed friend, you really need to read this great book. I saw myself in the characters: the grieving wife, the caretaker, the frightened sister who has recently learned of her own prognosis, the resilient human being who reminds herself "I didn't die.” I felt ready to create space in my life for those who are grieving, for myself, for my loved ones – without saying: "If you need anything call me." Now I am more nuanced; ready to reach ou ...more
Nancy Saltzman
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Jill's book is a testament to her strength, courage, and honesty in overcoming the loss of so many loved ones in her life. She takes the reader on the roller coaster ride that is her life and offers us hope at each turn. There are tears but also laughter and an abundance of love. Several characteristics make the book stand out among others about loss -- her beautiful writing style, the factual information she shares about the resilience of the human spirit, her sense of humor, and her sheer hone ...more
Apr 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book because a close friend lost her husband suddenly and tragically. I was amazed as the days went by to see how well she was coping. As the author experienced and wrote about, what she found and what I saw was that some people are able to deal with anything if they have a good support system and good inner strength. Not everyone copes with grief the same way and she explains that in a way that doesn't diminish the sadness anyone feels. ...more
Aug 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir
My biggest takeaway from this book--and the one that I do think Smolowe wants it to be--is that you're not grieving wrong. After my father died suddenly almost 3 years ago, I kept thinking that something was wrong with me because I was too functional. After my dad's mother died a few years ago (at the age of 94!), my dad was so upset that he had to pull over while driving to vomit. I didn't experience anything like that. His death came in a 3-year period where I lost both grandmothers, my father ...more
Peggy Toya
Jun 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent personal insight into the grief process

I've been told, many times, that everyone experiences grief differently; that it is a personal time; and one that has no set timeline. The personal and intimate thoughts, feelings, and perceptions by Ms Smolowe have helped me understand and realize that the "script and response to grief" is pretty much nonexistent. I especially appreciated that she shared how uncomfortable, (and often times cold and shallow) everyone seemed when they asked her "ho
Chris George
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oh, how I wept, reading this. I also learned about grieving. Having lost 4 family members to cancer alone, it both broke my heart and strengthened me to read this. My takeaways are: 1) realizing that the "stages of grief" are not quid quo pro and 2) allowing oneself to move through grief as an individual (vs what society expects) is both freeing and healthy. ...more
A thoughtful memoir that sheds a different light on dealing with a spouse’s terminal illness and death. Some early chapters of the book seemed a little repetitious, and the odd placement of the chapter on funerals and memorial services made the final pages drag, but I found the author’s ultimate happy-ever-after heartening.
Jun 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: grief
This was a very generous account of her loss of her husband and 3 of closest women relatives within 2 years. Sharing her insights of her process of responding to such loss over three years was enlightening and reassuring.
Apr 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Filled with many relatable experiences and feelings. Sad, wrenching, ultimately hopeful.
Janice Airhart
Sep 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
Interesting memoir about grief and healing.
Travel Writing
Dec 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: grief, memoir
"...each of us a reliable ballast to the other's crazy."

The love story of Jill Smolowe and her ill husband, Joe, is lovely. Her descriptions of how they fit and worked as a couple, as journalists, as parents touched me deeply. She has an uncanny knack of almost lulling you with what seems to be benign vignettes, but are so deep and profoundly touching- I found myself going back and re-reading entire pages in awe.

"People didn't understand, my need was to enter their worlds, not of them to enter
Jan 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Smolowe writes in the Prologue of her book about loss of her loved ones: "a force that has left me disinclined to deny, evade or flee from my moments of intense pain. I know I can tolerate them because I know they will pass." As she learned when she lost her husband and several other very close family members in quick succession, grief does not have to define the rest of your life. She hungered for other writings that supported her determination to find her way back to a place where she could lo ...more
Jan 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Quotable: The message that made the deepest impression was Richard’s gut-wrenching wish that he had assumed the worst, “then just poured my heart out.” That wasn’t, as Richard had put it, a “selfish voice” speaking. That was the voice of grief. Of regret. Of hard earned wisdom. And in this moment when my heart and mind were in search of guidance, I heard it. That piece of advice would prove more valuable than any other during the long journey ahead. Rather than diminishing to inconsequence, the ...more
Judy Colprubin
Jul 01, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a comforting read for anyone dealing with the death of a spouse. Much has been written recently, notably by academic George Bonanno, debunking the long-accepted six stages of mourning. Human beings are remarkably resilient even following tragedy. So after Jill Smolowe's beloved husband died followed by three other close relatives she didn't curl up into depression. She continued with her life, eventually even meeting a new man. (I don't think that counts as a spoiler given the title). Of ...more
Elsie Radtke
Jun 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a powerful story of a great love and a great loss. The author is an excellent writer and is candid in her sharing of the journey of love and loss as she experienced it with her husband and family. As a mother, wife, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law and friend, she shares what it is like to be shocked with medical diagnoses that are horrible and yet she teaches us how to deal with them in mature and loving ways. The painful journey of her story is a good study of how to approach life so ...more
Rossandra White
Jul 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book should be required reading! Jill Smolowe’s memoir detailing the decline and death of her husband and other close family members takes us on an extraordinary journey into the very psyche of grief and loss. In turns funny and matter of fact the author doesn’t hold anything back. With insight and clarity she takes the reader deeper and deeper into her process of dealing with everything that comes her way, all the while revealing her compassion and strength of heart. You want this person a ...more
Apr 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure how to write an analysis of this author's well written experience of grief and loss. I certainly appreciated the insight she offers for that experience. She describes the moments of reflection, the times when one wants counsel, the agony of denial, and the 'must' go on with chin up succinctly. She separated unrelated distance from close up and personal to a tee. I'm wondering what the statistical law of averages shows regarding the dying/death of a child compared to all other closel ...more
May 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book touched me on so many levels. I laughed and sobbed (out loud) as I was brought on Jill's journey. Who knew that someone could keep themselves in tact while experiencing so much loss? Jill gives us all hope that we can endure more than we think we can, break the mold of the "expected" reactions and be able to better serve those around us. For me, this book provides necessary tools for preparation of the inevitable, as well as a new perspective on those currently grieving. And most impor ...more
Claire S.
Aug 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: at-home
This is mostly a story about how to survive the long-term illness of a spouse. She offers good points about how to negotiate the societal expectations of both illness and grief. She does a good job of pointing out flaws in the one-size fits all concept of the steps of grief used in pop psychology, that were written for those dying, not those who are left behind. It would be good for someone who is struggling with loss and wondering if they are grieving "correctly." I found it profoundly educatio ...more
Peggy Bird
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having recently experienced some of what Jill Smolowe went through, I can attest to what she writes so beautifully about loss, grief and resilience. She, however, went through so much emotional turmoil that I am in awe of her strength and courage. The book brought tears, smiles, nods of understanding and the occasional smile, particularly near the end. Definitely a book I'd recommend for anyone who's going through the process of grieving a loss. ...more
Gwendolyn Plano
Mar 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book has touched me as few have. Personal circumstances have introduced me to grief, but Smolowe’s moving journey through its chilly grip, have opened doors within my heart.

Smolowe writes with humility and honesty of her own struggle with what to say or not to say, of her efforts to attend to her own sorrow and that of others, of the details of dying and letting go. She also writes of the emergence of joy.

This is a powerful book — one for all to read.
Donna Engler
Jan 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Honest and well written

Smolowe writes so poignantly about her husband's long illness and how they faced it together. Then she goes on to the other family members she eventually loses; you might expect nothing but sadness. Yet, with her tears, she interweaves humor, love and grace to perfection. She truly shows resilience during all her times of grief.
If you are going through a difficult time in your life, you will appreciate and be warmed by her writing.
Jun 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir-bio, death, love
Was looking for something to soothe my own sense of loss, and while I found the story of the death of the author's husband to be moving and important, the tales of the continuing losses she suffered just got to be a bit much. (I recognize this perception probably has more to do with my own unresolved grief and less to do with her story.) The short little postscript about her wedding...just seemed rushed. ...more
Dec 23, 2015 rated it liked it
The author has written about her experience dealing with grief (she lost her mother-in-law, her husband, her sister, and her mother within a year or two), and how the response of others affected her during those times. Very interesting points, but from a non-religious point of view, unfortunately.
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Jill Smolowe is the author of the memoirs "Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief" and "An Empty Lap: One Couple’s Journey to Parenthood", and co-editor of the anthology "A Love Like No Other: Stories from Adoptive Parents". An award-winning journalist, she has been a foreign affairs writer for Time and Newsweek, and a senior writer for People, where she currently specializes i ...more

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