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Reviewed by Christina Hamlett for Readers' Favorite
Recently widowed author Kathleen Ho holds no tears back in Living Forward After Loss, a bittersweet tribute to her late husband. Felled by an unexpected stroke after 10 years of marriage, he left behind a wife who found herself darkly contemplating whether her own life without him was even worth living. While there is never a one-size-fits-all formula for the grieving process, Ho approaches the subject with candor, sensitivity, and a healthy dose of realism to not only address her own sorrow but to offer gentle advice as well to readers who may one day find themselves on the same sad journey. Along with stories by other survivors of tragedy, her text is intermixed with quotes from prominent experts. The underlying message of gratitude for everything that was rather than despair over that which will never be is as inspirational as it is a well-grounded education in grief management.
There are so many valuable takeaways in Living Forward After Loss that I found myself excited to write this review and attempt to cover all of them. The one which resonated most deeply with me was the blunt reality that while it’s okay to feel vulnerable, this is not an excuse to be stupid. Too often a devastating loss opens the door to radical changes as a perceived salve for unspeakable pain; i.e. substance abuse, impetuous relationships and even reinventing personal appearance. Further, there is a natural tendency to play out a multitude of “what ifs” or fervently wish for do-overs. Coupled with emotional triggers such as holidays, photographs and the well-intended reminiscences of family and friends can make it feel as if the loss is something which will never, ever end. Ho further emphasizes that giving up should never be considered part of the recovery equation. A loved one may be gone, she says, but even in the afterlife, they would be hurt to see a sadness so profound as to result in suicide. If we truly want to honor a deceased spouse, child, parent, or friend, she recommends that the best way is by living a full and authentic existence and daily visualizing our best possible selves. How we react determines how we ultimately survive and thrive.
I likewise warmed to the portions of Ho’s book in which she advises how we can best comfort someone who has endured a loss. In recent times I have found myself in this unsettling role, and her observations were spot-on. Specifically, either supporters don’t know what to say and so they err on the side of saying nothing, or they blunder ahead and say all the wrong things such as, “I know exactly how you feel,” “S/he is in a better place,” and “You’ll meet someone new.” Thanks to Ho’s warm, conversational style of communicating advice based on her own experiences, I feel that I can now be better in the inevitability of friends needing a shoulder to cry on.