“Four Funerals and a Wedding”: Memoir By Jill Smolowe

There is only one broad comment I feel comfortable making about grief: while loss is universal, grief is personal. In “Four Funerals and a Wedding” I offer my personal story not as a template but rather as an alternate picture of how grief unfolds for many people. Author of Four Funerals and a Wedding Jill Smolowe, to Rita Watson, Psychology Today

In the course of 17 months, several family members of award-winning journalist Jill Smolowe—her husband, sister, mother, and mother-in-law—died. A play on the title of a popular movie, Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief is her recent memoir.

From the book description:

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 offers answers to questions we all confront in the face of loss, and reminds us that grief is not only about endings–it’s about new beginnings.

Bonnie Miller Rubin, Chicago Tribunefurther explains Smolowe’s process:

When Smolowe, 58, didn’t become paralyzed by sadness, friends called her ‘amazing,’ a label she neither wanted nor felt she deserved. She wondered if she somehow wasn’t doing bereavement ‘right,’ which sent her digging deeper into the grief experience. What she found was that she wasn’t alone, and a wide swath of widows and widowers fared better than expected — and even, like the author, go on to find love again.

Even more specifically, what Smolowe felt unable to identify with were the classic Kubler-Ross stages. To her relief, though, she then learned that those stages are about the dying, not about the ones left behind. Another helpful insight? Clinical psychologist George Bonanno‘s conclusion (The Other Side of Sadness) that most American mourners are actually “resilient.”

About this resilience, as told to Rubin: “Such people experience grief as a constant oscillation between sadness and lighter moments. They not only endure their sadness without feeling overwhelmed by it, but they are able to experience genuine pleasure even in the earliest days of their grief.”

Smolowe tells Rita Watson, Psychology Today, “…(W)hat I most needed from friends was conversation and activity that would remind me of the many other aspects of my life that remained wonderful. I was never more than minutes from my sorrow. Anytime I could think about something other than my pain for even a few minutes, was replenishing.”

Today, some years later, Smolowe is married to a man who’d lost his wife around the same time she’d lost her husband, a man who grieves similarly to her and who gets, as she does, that they can share happiness together and still miss their previous mates. She also now offers both grief coaching and divorce coaching.

SELECTED REVIEWS OF FOUR FUNERALS AND A WEDDING

Christina Baker Kline, author of Orphan Train:

By turns humorous, matter-of-fact, and wise, Smolowe does not shy away from uncomfortable moments. But she also emphasizes moments of grace with an eloquence that will take your breath away. As she probes deeper into her own feelings and motivations, she’s never maudlin or histrionic. You’ll feel like you’re in the company of a wise, funny, rigorously honest and yet compassionate friend.

Publishers Weekly: “Her story is heartbreaking and heartwarming, incisively written and extremely clear. Readers will find themselves sympathetic and eager to hear how Smolowe coped with her losses and how she negotiated societal expectations of grief with grace and dignity. This is an absolute must-read for people struggling with loss.”

Deborah Tannen, author of You Just Don’t Understand: “Exploding many truisms about dealing with death and illness, this book provides insight for navigating the perilous path between saying too much or too little, and concrete suggestions by which the bereaved, and those who care about them, can move beyond the ritual ‘Let me know if there is anything I can do.’”

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