Catherine de Courcy looks at the hidden aspects of grief and how to manage the strange and unsettling challenges the loss of a loved one provokes.
She also portrays the devastating impact of post-traumatic stress on a Vietnam veteran. A deeply moving and inspiring story of one person’s journey through grief.
Review by Tony Bates in Inside Out: the journal for the Irish ASsociation of Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy, Autumn 2009.
In the opening pages of The Hobbit, Gandalf visits Bilbo Baggins and invites him to share in an adventure that he is arranging. Bilbo declines the offer on the grounds that hobbits are plain quiet folk who have “no use for adventures”. Furthermore, he declares, that adventures are “Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can’t think of what anybody sees in them”.
Modern day therapists can find themselves in Gandalf’s place, inviting their wary clients to embark on an adventure, when these same clients are primarily seeking to overcome some particular discomfort so that they can resume their ‘normal’ lives. Therapy is not for the faint-hearted; it involves a lot more than simply overcoming uncomfortable symptoms. It is a journey of discovery that takes a person through some very dark and difficult places where the outcome is uncertain, but where there is the possibility of awakening their true selves and living more freely as human beings.
Catherine de Courcy’s book tells the story of what happens in her life when she said “Yes” to an adventure that was triggered by the shattering experience of her husband John’s suicide. This book brings wisdom and insight to the whole discourse of suicide and the pain it visits on those bereaved in this way. If that were all it offered it would surely merit a place in our national discourse on this very difficult public health problem.
But I believe that Catherine’s book offers a great deal more. It describes a journey of personal recovery that is so beautifully and honestly articulated that it speaks to all of us. For Catherine, it was her husband’s death that pulled her out of her comfort zone and challenged her to grow, or to give up on her life. Each of us has had some experience that has similarly challenged us to engage with the painful complexity of our lives or to turn away from what hurts us and cling fiercely to our comfort zones. This book is an encouragement to anyone who is serious about achieving integration within their personal lives and learning to find their own unique way of belonging to and contributing to the world. It maps out a journey of recovery that will have resonance particularly for anyone who is trying to come to terms with trauma and loss.
Sometimes I have found personal narratives on overcoming adversity difficult to read. Either they gloss over the terror and tedium of recovery and make it all sound too easy; or they dwell on the gruesome details of personal tragedy to a degree which I can find hard going. What I appreciated about Catherine’s book was that it was deeply personal without ever becoming sentimental. She was candid about her own limitations and difficulties as she worked her way through grief, but she was also remarkably practical and even humourous at times about what worked and what didn’t work for her…
Catherine writes from a depth of connection with her body, mind and heart that reaches beyond the merely personal to something that holds some relevance for us all. Her tenacity in piecing together the broken pieces of her shattered life, her courage in engaging with depths of emotional pain, and her awakening to a new levels of freedom in herself, clearly depict her adventure in grief; but ultimately this is not a book about grief so much as it is a book that invites us to share someone’s adventure in living, and to be less afraid of making that journey in our own lives.