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The Grief Recovery Handbook: A Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Devastating Losses

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Updated to commemorate its 20th anniversary, this classic resource further explores the effects of grief and sheds new light on how to begin to take effective actions to complete the grieving process and work towards recovery and happiness.

Incomplete recovery from grief can have a lifelong negative effect on the capacity for happiness. Drawing from their own histories as well as from others', the authors illustrate how it is possible to recover from grief and regain energy and spontaneity.

Based on a proven program, The Grief Recovery Handbook offers grievers the specific actions needed to move beyond loss. New material in this edition includes guidance for dealing with:

·  Loss of faith

·  Loss of career and financial issues

·  Loss of health

·  Growing up in an alcoholic or dysfunctional home

The Grief Recovery Handbook is a groundbreaking, classic handbook that everyone should have in their library.

“This book is required for all my classes. The more I use this book, the more I believe that unresolved grief is the major underlying issue in most people’s lives. It is the only work of its kind that I know of that outlines the problem and provides the solution.”—Bernard McGrane, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, Chapman University


192 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1988

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John W. James

12 books6 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 224 reviews
Profile Image for LT.
140 reviews
December 5, 2007
This book saved my life! While dealing with mom's sudden death and my dad's impending terminal illness, I felt that no one understood me or wanted to hear about my sorrow. I decided to seek out some help in alternative ways and ran across this book. Their no-nonsense approach was refreshing and provided some much needed honesty and candor about a topic that everyone else was afraid to discuss with me.
Profile Image for Melanie.
83 reviews10 followers
August 5, 2010
I highly recommend this book to anyone dealing with any grief in their lives. It's very hands on but worth the work it takes. It was very helpful for me and gives me a good place to go. Rereading my notes and assignments is always good for me if I'm struggling on one particular day. It helped me map out my life, document the major life events, and realize what affected me most. Then they help you through the process, talking you through each step and why it's important, and giving examples from their own lives. Best self-help book I've ever read.
Profile Image for Alana.
1,461 reviews48 followers
May 10, 2013
I really appreciated this book for the first half. I related to so many things, especially all the unhelpful phrases well-meaning people tend to say, like "You'll find someone better" or "It's all for the best," or "God has a plan." Hearing someone else say that none of these things is remotely helpful and learning ways that we often learn to repress our grief rather than work it out is very encouraging. However, I strongly disagreed with many statements made in the second half, including the complete disregard for faith and its role in the healing process. I understood the point the authors were trying to make in that grief transcends religious boundaries, but to rule it out in the grief process entirely is not only foolish but, in my opinion, hurtful. And the idea that one should never ask for forgiveness from someone is equally foolish. Yes, I understand the point that one need's to take responsibility for one's own actions and say "sorry" where necessary, understanding that forgiveness may or may not be given, but to deny that forgiveness should ever be asked for? And they stated that never under any circumstances should you seek out someone to tell them you forgive them. While certainly there are times when someone does not even know they've wronged you and all this would do is incite someone, there are also times when someone knows they've done wrong and you may have withheld forgiveness for a very long time, only later realizing that you should forgive. In this time of instance, offering forgiveness can go a long way toward restoring a relationship.

All that aside, there are some very good insights. However, considering they mentioned that when the book was written "the world is still reeling from the death of Diana," I think some changes may have been made in the way we look at and treat grief.

However, if you are grieving or know someone that is, I highly recommend the first half of the book, especially to know what NOT to say when doing your very best to help your struggling loved one.
Profile Image for N Klepacki.
9 reviews17 followers
December 26, 2015
I first learnd of this book through Jim Beaver's Memoir of his wife, Cecily Adams in "Life's That Way" -I wish I'd read this years ago. I've read so much of the 'self help' and 'Twelve Step" genre over the years that I've become a bit jaded about a lot of it. Friedman throws a whole new approach and sensibility (tempered with good humor) that transcends the usual "Pull Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps" or "Let Go and Let God Run the Dumptruck Over Her/Him" (had to throw in a funny, there) preaching that a lot of self guidance books tend to sink into. I've experienced two, severe, devastating losses during the last 18 months - and this time, I mean to learn and heal instead of making the same stupid 'repitition compulsion' driven mistakes.
Profile Image for Brandy Machado.
17 reviews
April 23, 2020
I will start off by saying that I know this book and their program has helped thousands of people who are struggling with grief and that is great. For the people who get something out of this book, I'm glad it exists for that purpose.

As far as I go, I was disappointed by a few things in the book.

1) In one section, they ask victims of abuse to not only forgive their abusers but also to apologize. I don't think victims should ever be required to forgive their abusers, but I understand the weight that can be lifted if someone is able to do that. However, being asked to apologize to abusers seemed like an inappropriate ask. What do they have to apologize for? They were not the cause of their abuse. The authors also but victim in quotation marks as if being a victim is not a real thing.

2) They recommended against seeking out support groups that are specific to a certain kind of grief. I disagree with that strongly. Sometimes finding people who have experienced similar things are the best people to help you process. It does not make sense for someone whose family member just took their life seek out someone who just got divorced. They are both valid losses but do not have a lot of crossover in grief types.

3) The authors essentially say that once you have gone through their steps, you have officially "completed grief". If you don't feel complete in your grief, it means you did something wrong and you must repeat the steps. That oversimplifies grief, especially when it is complex grief. Not all grief can be "completed" by making timelines and writing a letter. And to insinuate that someone is still grieving because they didn't get over it using these steps can make someone feel really isolated and like there is something wrong with them if they can't deal with it.
Profile Image for Rick Sam.
389 reviews88 followers
May 29, 2022
“Depression” - if someone feels sad, one frequently throws the word.

A Commonly used phrase, "I felt depressed."

Chuck the internet, spews out misinformation, seek qualified sources in the field.

For Mental Health, always, always seek out professional, who is trained in the field.

1. So, Why did I read this work?

Someone shared with me a story.

This person shared, how they were trying to become a doctor.

The narrative of people in Tamil Nadu; become a doctor or engineer -- if not, you're a failure.

This person said, as I failed to become a doctor.

I fell into depression - really? They had become a Teacher.

Was it Depression or Grief?

But is it true, Depression?

Misinformation, false labels create false beliefs.

Maybe it was Grief i.e loss of a dream? Do their parents know about this, nope! Wrong!

Another Story, A Tamil Girl goes through relationship break up, her friends say, “Move On”, “Time heals.”

This is all wrong stuff to say to the person according to Professionals.

Ouch, if you are a Man — painful truth, maybe want to be accurate with your oneself i.e self-awareness.

Most Men would not accept that they want to grow or have an area that they need to work on in their life - Why? Pride, Lack of growth mindset.

Emotional isolation is a major problem for grievers.

To Men:

1) Can you label your own emotions?
2) Can you express how you feel?
3) Can you feel about your own feelings?
4) If your loved ones are crying, can you sit with them, feel their feelings, instead of trying to fix it?

Many Women want to be felt heard, felt loved, felt appreciated, not fix stuff for them.

Maybe you’d say, “Oh, she went emotional.” Maybe, not.

Perhaps, time to work on this area of your life.

If you do, you'd enjoy higher-quality relationships in your life.

2. What is Grief?

“Grief, normal and natural reaction to loss of any kind.”

Grief is by definition emotional.

“Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.“

3. What is happening in the midst of Grief?

You may have experienced a loss of trust in a parent, a loss of trust in God, or a loss of trust in any other relationship.

There are two very distinct probabilities following a loss:
(1) your religious or spiritual faith may be shattered or shaken
(2) regardless of the nature of the loss, your faith is undamaged.


So, What does one do with Grief?

Two words not to use for Grief:

Many people use this as a narrative.

Recovery means claiming your circumstances instead of your circumstances claiming you and your happiness.

Recovery is finding new meaning for living, without the fear of being hurt again.

What are the misinformations about Grief?


1. Don’t feel bad.
2. Replace the loss.
3. Grieve alone.
4. Just give it time.
5. Be strong for others.
6. Keep busy.

“grief just takes time,” the next most difficult hurdle for grievers to overcome is the incorrect belief that other people or events are responsible for their feelings.”

“Get a hold of yourself.”
“You can’t fall apart.”
“Keep a stiff upper lip.”
“Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
“We understand how you feel.”
“Be thankful you have other children.”
“The living must go on.”
“He’s in a better place.”
“All things must pass.”
“She led a full life.”
“God will never give you more than you can handle.”
“You shouldn’t be angry with God.”

“I can forgive, but I can’t forget.”

“I can forgive, but I can’t forget” is that, since I cannot forget, I will not forgive.

But ask yourself: Who stays in jail?

Who continues to resent and shut down his or her own mind, body, and heart?

Whose life is limited by the lack of forgiveness?

4. So, How does one go back to meaningful life?

One can do with a partner or alone.

1. Create Loss history Graph
2. Create Relationship History Graph

Three things involved:
- Be Totally Honesty
-Be Absolute Confidentiality
-Bring Uniqueness and Individuality

Avoid Pitfalls:

Avoid monologue, consider rather discussing.
Avoid becoming analytical, critical, or judgmental.

Go through them, Be Honest.

Expressing incomplete Grief:

Significant Emotional Statements

Write a Letter with this, Do not send to the living person. Send to a trusted Friend.

P.S: I’m not a Professional. Always reach out to Professionals, self-educate about yourself, your family story.

I'd reiterate, read basic works, get yourself educated, meet Professionals in the field.

I'd recommend this work, the core of this book is the process of Grief.

Deus Vult,
Profile Image for Alma :).
8 reviews22 followers
November 21, 2011
I read this book a few years ago, while I was in the midst of an unraveling relationship. I was coping with that loss and a very difficult year and dealing with 20 years of unresolved grief from my father's death when I was six. At the time, I had taken baby steps toward healing by finally opening up to my friends and loved ones, but I was having a great deal of difficulty moving on. I decided to take a course on Death and Dying as part of my degree program, and this book was required reading. Not only did I have to read it, I had to do all the exercises and share them with people in the course.

I hated every single minute of it--mostly because, I think, I wasn't altogether ready to rip off the scabs from years of suffering. I was also never an open person, so it felt trite and intrusive. Despite that feeling, I gave it my all. I rolled my eyes a lot and complained a lot. I didn't think it helped at all. Shortly thereafter, my Mama got terminally ill. I had to basically give up my life to take care of her. I found myself face-to-face with so much grief in such a short amount of time that I didn't know how to even breathe. But I realized that I was able to face the grief this time because of the work I'd done with this book. After my Mama passed away, I used the techniques in the book to deal with these new pains. And I've since tried to do these things for every unresolved event/painful relationship in my life.

This book is not miraculous, but it does give you a method of doing the work you need to do. For me, no matter what grief it is, the key is to acknowledge it exists. That's what this book does. It provides a gate to fully acknowledging the pain in your life--sometimes, the pain is connected to other pain and you're unaware of it. It's a first step, and it will not "fix" you. Only you can do that, and you can take these tools and make them work for you. For the critics who say it focuses on divorce and death too much--I disagree. The technique is really what's valuable here--not the circumstance. I found it helpful to just skip to the techniques instead of reading the commentary. The technique can be built upon and interpreted differently, but it will help shed light on different things. It's true that nothing is one size fits all. You have to be willing to work--and willing to fall down multiple times. I recommend this technique as one part of a strategy of coping. Another part would be building support networks for yourself, seeking alternate ways of expressing yourself, and (of course) therapy.

It's been seven years since my Mama died, and I am still dealing with the losses in my life on a daily basis. But they no longer eat away at me, and I can face them with a certainty that I will survive them. You will never be the same, but you can face your life and learn to carry your burdens with grace.
Profile Image for Katrine Austin.
375 reviews13 followers
May 8, 2018
This book is simply profound for anyone dealing with unresolved grief. In my opinion, it therefore is great reading for most people (even if they may not realize it). But more, it tasks you with actions to take, and those behavioral changes and homework done on oneself are what makes this program work as it does. This program is not for the faint of heart, or for those afraid to look deep within, or simply don't buy into the fact that mere reading will not cut it. Hospice is an amazing philosophy and I'm grateful my community offered this for my work with and about Jay. I now have tools in my emotional reservoir to look hard at my other losses, see what else is unresolved, and do the work moving forward...all in the noble goal of stronger happiness and promoting the capability to stay and appreciate every present moment and the full breadth of emotions life offers.
Profile Image for Neyo .
20 reviews3 followers
November 4, 2013
I read mostly fiction, but there was a time just after my bereavement two years ago that I scoured bookstore shelves and e-books list for any helpful grief books, hoping that they would give me wisdom to help me better understand my experience, and that they could speak to me on a personal level in the quiet solitude of my darkest days. A kind of lifeline to carry around.

But I got no success, or perhaps I didn’t search well. I’m not the religious type of a person, and I’m not so much into reading inspirational books, though I have read a few of them.

It was only last year that I was able to get hold of an e-book copy of this self-help grief book The Grief Recovery Handbook. It is actually a teaching manual handbook on how to recover from grief. The authors draw from their own histories of grief (one about divorce, the other the death of a child and a grandfather), as well as from others to illustrate how it is possible to recover from grief and regain energy and spontaneity through a well-defined plan. The readers or grievers are offered with specific actions, or guidelines coupled with some homework activities.

The book didn’t give me the miracle I need, maybe because I didn’t work with their method or stay on track with the program. The handbook however impresses on me some valuable information about my situation: that there are no absolutes in grief; that recovery from loss is achieved by a series of small and correct choices made by the griever; that incomplete recovery from grief can have a lifelong negative effect on the capacity for happiness; that one can have complete grief recovery only by being totally honest with himself or herself and others; and that there are several pieces of misinformation about dealing with loss. I also learned that saying “I’m” fine is often a lie.

In fact, I get better insights on grief from reading fiction than any information or clinical method I got from the handbook. Some of the novels that have really gained me something valuable carry the universal theme of loss and the different ways people deal with it.

Maybe I’m just trying to justify my fiction addiction.
Profile Image for Patricia.
393 reviews7 followers
July 7, 2020
I cannot recommend this book to anyone looking for help with current grieving. It may be a good book to go through when you are not in the midst of grieving a loss and to help you think about how you have learned to deal with loss, and to think about relationships in general. The authors spend a lot of time in the beginning talking about how great their methods are, as well as interspersing long stories of their own personal losses throughout the book. You are pretty much told that what you think and feel is probably wrong and you should do it their way. The fact that the title of the letter you write to your loved one toward the end of the book is copyrighted tells me that these people are trying to or maybe already have based a business around the book, in other words, trying to make money- take advantage of people's grief. I haven't investigated to see if they have a whole slew of products. This book is from 2009, so it may have gone by the wayside. Anyway, this has been a long review to say that I don't think you should buy this book if you or someone you know recently experienced the death of a loved one, because it is not helpful.
Profile Image for Rev. Christine.
22 reviews3 followers
January 21, 2014
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to "clean house" when it comes to releasing grief and coming to a place of completion with the losses in their life.

I read this book and did the work it suggested in conjunction with working with a grief counselor after my mother's passing. I will also be doing the training program to strengthen my own skill set as a spiritual counselor who specializes in grief support and life transitions.

This isn't an airy-fairy fix, it's a roll-up your sleeves and git 'er done, say what there is to say and move on, action based approach to loss.

It was hard, sometimes teary work, but I loved it!
Profile Image for Angela.
240 reviews9 followers
June 18, 2019
I highly recommend this book. It gives you a feeling of being understood. It covers all kinds of loss in all areas of life and gives you a method for what the authors call "completing your emotions." This method might not work for everyone or for every loss. But I think it is worth the effort and cannot hurt. I will be trying to implement the suggested steps in my own way. One caveat to the reader: I feel strongly that, because person's each grief is unique, everyone should be free to take the suggestions and use them in their own unique way, not necessarily or dogmatically following the exact path laid out in the book.
155 reviews18 followers
December 2, 2020
Exceptional book even if you're not grieving in the traditional sense. Identifies and adds perspective to many of our Western beliefs, reactions, and advice regarding change and loss.

I wish I had read this years earlier. Highly recommended.

Profile Image for Nancy Freund.
Author 5 books92 followers
April 9, 2018
A tricky review to write, because this self-help book makes an important promise, as self-help books generally do. I'd think anyone reading my review of it might want to know whether the authors and the book deliver on that promise. That is, will the grief caused by death, divorce, trauma, moving, abuse, loss of career or trust or safety, loss of faith or mobility or physical or mental ability actually be lessened as a result of actions described in this guidebook? I don't know... but I do believe the authors' sincerity in presenting their methods and in supporting the workshops and lectures they have created to accompany the book. I believe they have helped thousands of grieving people "complete their grief," as the book puts it, or lighten their loads -- as I might.
I have not worked through the process yet. THe book's structure is clean and the process is well presented. Still, some of the steps felt repetitive and unecessary to me, in reading them, so I found myself reading on, page by page, trying to glean what I could to then make a decision about what action I would possibly take later. I am still at that stage now, deciding what action I might take. Interestingly, I do feel a bit lighter already. I suppose inadvertently, I've confronted a few important questions involving my mom's recent death and other losses, and even without meaning to, I undertook the initial steps of the guidebook's process as a result. So although I did not create my own "loss history graph" to then convert to a "relationship graph," nor did I write a good-bye letter of completeness, I did gain a clearer understanding of what grief is and why it hits so hard, sneaks up on us even when we think we're doing fine, and why the same messages may run on repeat in our heads, long after the person is gone and the problems with that person seemed to have already been resolved. So if that's already the case just from reading the book, I'd imagine that a thorough process of working through the steps (with a group or a partner, or alone) would indeed deliver some excellent results. This book was recommended to me by a trusted friend, and I'm glad I managed to get a copy to keep. I read every bit of it with genuine interest, and I'm sure I will refer back to it over time.
The edition I read was the 20th anniversary expanded edition from 2009, that I believe includes new passages on Alzheimers, my specific interest, and PTSD.
Profile Image for Lanette Sweeney.
Author 1 book7 followers
November 2, 2020
The authors believe they have devised a strategy whereby grievers can work through a program of recovery and feel "complete" in letting go of their grief. That seems ridiculous to me, but in fairness to them, they beg that we readers do the actual exercises rather than just read about them, and I have not done them, so perhaps I don't know how good and "complete" I could feel if I did.

In summary, they recommend we make a loss graph of every major loss (including moving, getting fired, getting divorced, getting humiliated, etc.) in our life, including the worst one, and that then we make a relationship graph about the person involved in each loss in which we list all the major events of our time together. Then we are to write a letter the person with apologies, forgiveness, and a completion closing that ends with goodbye. I did make the loss graph, but the thought of continuing on and making graphs about all my hurts is just exhausting. In many ways, I feel I have already worked through much of the work they are encouraging -- recalling the events of my childhood that were traumatic, forgiving (in my mind or out loud) the people who hurt me, and in the case of my ex-husband and children, apologizing for all the ways I hurt them. And while I do think that working through these issues and memories has been helpful, I am not sure this is what I would recommend for someone in fresh grief.

I do agree that society tries to get us to hide our grief, act normal, and move on before we are emotionally ready. I also agree that forgiving and apologizing are important components of our own emotional growth. But the step-by-step workshopping of this, especially as they recommend, with a partner, just sounds too hard for most people. This book did not bring me comfort.
October 28, 2019
wow. honestly, a book i believe every single human needs to read and work through. this book changed my life.

i wish everyone i knew read this book and did the emotional work outlined here. if everyone did, i know there would be less problems across the board. getting into it with our emotions is so needed and the steps in this book are totally essential for dealing with relationships, loss and love in this modern society.

i should probably give it a quick reread. also, i find it helpful to go through the motions with the steps (the grief chart, the letter, etc) with multiple relationships in your life that can hold discordant energy.

one thing i love about this work... is that most people find it through immense pain. the death of a child or loved one. but most of the time, the people that the relationship graph and all is focused on ends up being a parent.... because all wounds start in childhood and they start with the parent.

again. every single human needs to read this book.
Profile Image for Linda Quinton-Burr.
52 reviews1 follower
March 8, 2013
Had a bad experience with this book. May be good for residual grief in cases where that is the only issue. My client -- who had real issues with stress generally, got into a "certified group" based on this book and being pushed to bring back all the details of her traumas in excruciating detail threw her in to multiple seizures and migraines. I've worked a lot with grieving and most people are able to deal with and let go of trauma without essentially reliving the traumas in such detail. That said, acknowledging the reality of grief and validating grief under many different circumstances -- and recognizing the insensitivity and inability of many to deal with grievers in a positive way is a positive contribution made by the authors.
Profile Image for Dreamer.
496 reviews7 followers
June 13, 2015
The third section of the Grief Recovery Handbook details steps a grieving person can take in order to complete their grief work, and is helpful. However, the first two sections of the book explain, in detail, how most of society has been trained incorrectly on how to grieve, and how unhelpful this is. While I agree with this, it can be a bit much to read; as I felt it tore down everything I knew before it finally started to build me back up again, and if the authors' specific methods don't work for a particular reader, they may be left with less of a positive outlook than when they began reading.
Profile Image for David.
19 reviews
August 10, 2012
This book is OK. I bought after the recommendation of a friend and I can say that I don't think I would recommend this book. There are to many other great resources out there that can equip and assist others in grief recovery. Being one who has academically studied grief, crisis, loss, trauma, etc..I found myself being frustrated reading this book. After years of research in these areas, I tend to disagree more than agree. However, there are some good points to walk away with.
Profile Image for Heidi Burkhart.
1,967 reviews28 followers
February 24, 2019
The first part of the book discussed societal expectations for dealing with grief. These expectations were examined and discussed at some length.

The second and third parts of the book were best accomplished with a partner. Though somewhat interesting I didn't really find it very helpful.

The book was written over twenty years ago which might be working against it.
Profile Image for Kristen.
19 reviews
September 3, 2012
Somehow my previous review was deleted. Book wants you to find a partner to work with. Not what I was expecting. Reading a book is usually an individual sport. Waste of time for me personally. I got more out of reading a book of stories told by a Hospice nurse.
Profile Image for Tim Plett.
222 reviews5 followers
September 13, 2018
This handbook has been extremely beneficial to me as I work my way through the grief of losing my wife. I'd recommend it to anyone caught in grief, whether it is grief caused by a death, a divorce, or even financial loss.
Profile Image for Jacqueline Bussie.
Author 4 books37 followers
November 29, 2022
I don’t agree with every word of this book, but overall its program proposal for addressing the hardest kinds of grief is practical, thorough, and effective.
177 reviews
February 23, 2021
After the recent loss of my mother I was looking for something to help me find my way back to feeling like me again. I took care of her at the end of her life and felt like every bit of innocence and whimsy had been ruthlessly crushed out of me. This book was not the miracle cure I’d hoped for. That said, there obviously is no miracle cure for grief. There is good information in this book though and, while all of it may not be for everyone, I feel like anyone suffering from a loss can find use with at least some of it.
Profile Image for Emerald.
47 reviews
April 24, 2021
It was a hard process, I kicked and screamed and cried myself numb and survived moving though this process and my grief. I am glad I stuck with it and honored my commitment because, ultimately it worked for me. It’s not for the faint of heart, working with grief. The book and process and women I met with have brought me peace with what I wanted to be “different, better or more.” I took a star off because it needs to be updated to take trauma into account. Also it’s a bit cerebral and not as heart centered as I wanted but perhaps it’s by design.
Profile Image for Erin.
100 reviews
October 22, 2018
Focused and comprehensive despite its low page count. Starts with an insightful and validating discussion of cultural barriers to healthy grieving (i.e., why people tend to say totally useless and irritating things), then outlining a concrete series of steps for processing grief of any kind (death, divorce, moving, etc.).
Profile Image for Kim.
16 reviews3 followers
January 14, 2020
The authors really encourage you to explore inward through fully engaging with your feelings as you try to process grief (losses that can take place in different shapes and forms). The amount of work you put in their exercises is what you get out. Definitely not the kind of book to read-through just once — would recommend rereading as needed.
Profile Image for Cali Bakker.
70 reviews1 follower
March 22, 2021
This is a must-read for anyone experiencing grief. So, basically, that's everyone. I appreciate their understanding and teaching that grief can come from any change to familiar patterns. This handbook gives valuable information and guides the reader through the steps to find completion in their relationships and losses.
Profile Image for Mich.
12 reviews7 followers
October 30, 2021
A little wordy at times but the stories and comparisons might be helpful for some people. Otherwise it seems like a solid and straight forward program to deal with various losses in life, not only death. I will work with this book and try it out.
Profile Image for Alana.
9 reviews1 follower
June 30, 2021
A helpful guide for navigating loss. I recommend working through it with a therapist or trusted friend.
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