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.


Maureen said...

How you write about Mason's book is how I felt about "The Empty Room" by Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn. Her book concerned loss of her sibling. I've read a lot of so-called "grief literature" but when my brother died in May I was surprised to find so little on grief over loss of a brother or sister. DeVita-Raeburn's book may be commended for many reasons, not the least of which is its availability. Just as you write that "culture generally expects men to deal with grief differently...", so, too, are its expectations about sibling loss. I know because I've encountered them over the last seven months (except in that one place Our Cancer).

Perhaps because I have spent so much time with the "members" of Our Cancer, I "see" no differences in how men grieve. Among those who are men, the loss is no less great and its outpouring there no less profound than among those of us who are women. But Our Cancer is a place where grief is made manifest, it's honest, it's lived. Sometimes, it's never gotten over.

Just one other thought: Often Kubler-Rose is mentioned in discussions of loss and grief, which then are portrayed as "process". Her work has been
misunderstood. She talked about death; what she wrote about death has since been applied incorrectly to grief. Grief is not a process, although I think it's referred to that way to make it more understandable.

Glynn said...

Maureen -- Thanks for this heartfelt comment. I thought about you and your brother as I was reading the book. and I should have been more clear about what Maosn calls the grief "process" -- a process, yes, but one that's always very individual and personal, and "one size" doesn't fit all. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

we live in grief each day. and i think that perhaps reading about it before we are brought to it by the death of someone that we know will help us to see it in the every day. the letting go that is taking place within us and all around us.

if we see it in the everyday as part of our lives here on earth, perhaps that can help us when we must let go of those close to us, be it slowly or quickly.

i think that we are unaware of our grief of the everyday. letting go of our selves, our children, what we can not do, what we have no control of. we think that gaining control is the answer when it is actually in the letting go and giving it to God. humans respond with defence and control and this leads to a hard heart. we don't want to feel the pain. but, we feel the pain anyway and shut out God in the process. ah, it is so important to have loving friends who know the love of God. to keep eachother's hearts open through all the pain of life with love and kindness given.