Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tom Mason's "Transforming the Valley of Grief"
When a man has to deal with grief, relatively few resources exist to help him through the process. The closet thing might be A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, in which he talks about the death of his wife Joy. But it’s more a discussion of the intense personal loss Lewis felt, with little guidance for others. And the culture generally expects men to deal with grief differently – we’re more accepting of the process for women (I know – a totally politically incorrect statement – but that doesn’t make it any less true).
In November of 2004, Thomas Mason, a professor at Northwestern University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, celebrated a normal Thanksgiving with his family. The next week, his wife went to the doctor with stomach pains. Seven weeks later, she died from cancer than had spread from her colon to her liver. And Mason went through a personal “tsunami” that transformed his life and left him in a struggle he was ill-equipped to face.
He got through the grief of losing his beloved wife of 31 years. And one of the things he did was to write about it. And that writing eventually became Transforming the Valley of Grief, designed especially to help men cope with the loss of a loved one – and to help other men help a man coping with grief. The book is not a how-to manual, because every death, every grieving experience is individual and different. But it is a guide, and one that helps fill the resource gap.
Mason organizes the book around dealing with the initial shock and pain; relying upon resources like friends and one’s church; the need for personal time, including a retreat or series of retreats; the need to avoid making major changes immediately; relying upon another man who can come alongside; and the idea of the process of grief, a process that includes setbacks and unexpected “relapses.” Each chapter concludes with questions and guides for both the man who’s grieving and the friend who’s trying to help him through that grief.
Transforming the Valley of Grief is a book that should be read before it’s needed – because you never know when you yourself will face “the valley of trouble and grief” or when you will be called upon to help someone go through that process. Read it before you need it.