Bearing the Unbearable:
and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief
Indies Book of the Year 2017
& the grief book that made
Oprah's Basket of Favorite Things!
Bearing the Unbearable by Dr. Joanne Cacciatoreⓥ
In this poignant, heartrending and heart lifting book, Joannne Cacciatore teaches how loss is transformed to peace, devastating grief to active and practical love. Beautifully beautifully written, Bearing the Unbearable is for all those who have grieved, will grieve, or support others through bereavement.
Gabor Maté M.D.
Author of When The Body Says No: Exploring The Stress-Disease Connection and In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
“Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief” offers practical guidance on coping with profound and life-changing grief. Dr. Cacciatore provides a framework within which we can approach and create spaces to be with our grief. In a world that often pressures people to “move on,” and that promotes distractions such as entertainment, drugs and alcohol, sex, and even spiritual practice as bypass, Dr. Cacciatore helps us awaken to that sacred place within our hearts that embraces our losses rather than pushes them away. She teaches us how to have a relationship, albeit changed and not the one we expected, with loved ones with whom we can no longer interact.
There are few books that so accurately portray the reality of grief in modern life. There are even fewer books that capture this reality with such honesty and elegiac grace. “Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief“ is destined to be a classic not merely because of its rarely explored topic. Rather, this book draws us into knowing ourselves more deeply, offering us deep breaths of wisdom borne of suffering and guidance borne of love and connection. This is the best book I have ever read on the process of grief.
Bearing the Unbearable is a compelling critique of our “compassion-deficient” and happiness-addicted culture that creates a pathological relationship to our feelings in general and grief in particular. Dr. Cacciatore elucidates the cost of pathologizing grief and neglecting and invalidating the emotional experience of people who have suffered horrendous loss—the way such approaches make the grief-stricken doubt themselves and feel alienated and isolated, all of which precludes healing. This book is a plea for therapeutic approaches to trauma and grief that unflinchingly respect the full spectrum of feelings that human beings experience thus providing an emotional home for our agony.
Jeffrey B. Rubin, PhD
Author, Meditative Psychotherapy and Psychotherapy & Buddhism
There are sentences in this luminous book that took my breath away. With penetrating insight and tender warmth, Dr. Jo meets the broken-hearted where we live: in an utterly transformed and transformational space. This is the secret potion I have been yearning for, offered from a brimming cup.
Translator of Dark Night of the Soul: John of the Cross
Author of Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation
This masterpiece is the greatest gift one could give to someone grieving or to the loved ones of the bereaved.
The Tattooed Buddha
Bearing the Unbearable is a truly remarkable book. Its author, Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, who herself suffered the heartbreak of losing a child more than 20 years ago, has devoted her entire professional life to work with traumatic bereavement, and her book brims over with the rich emotional wisdom she has acquired in the course of this work. Her aim in her work and in her book is not to exile, diminish, or “cure” us of grief. For “when we love deeply,” she contends wisely, “we also mourn deeply, for extraordinary grief is an expression of extraordinary love.” Her aim, on the contrary, is to give us a home for grief, to help us to be with and surrender to it, to dwell in unbearable sorrow, whether it be our own or another person’s. Loving and grieving are inseparable and constitutive aspects of our humanity, and one cannot emerge from a close reading of Bearing the Unbearable without feeling more deeply human. I strongly recommend it both to those who work with the traumatically bereaved and those who suffer from such bereavement themselves.
Robert D. Stolorow, PhD., Founding Faculty Member at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis and at the Institute for the Psychoanalytic Study of Subjectivity
Author of Trauma and Human Existence
Joanne Cacciatore’s amazing and emotionally demanding new book, Bearing the Unbearable, is an experience more than a book. In recounting many many cases from her extraordinary therapy practice devoted to helping people who are undergoing severe grief mostly after the death of a child, the book offers the reader an experience that, like grief itself, is painful but for which one will be deeply grateful afterwards. A classic piece of philosophical advice was that to understand a kind of thing, examine its most extreme examples. With the courage and wisdom of the author to support the reader through its many many vivid and memorable examples, Bearing the Unbearable takes us on a journey through some of the purest and most piercing distillations of grief, yielding details and distinctions that increase understanding of processes that are usually invisible. This book comes in the midst of an unprecedented push by psychiatry to pathologize and treat intense grief. Cacciatore reminds us that some terribly painful things are also terribly normal and human. Her mapping of the terrain of grief reveals the absurdity (and offensiveness, even with the best of intentions) of formulating “diagnostic criteria” for pathological grief that claim to be universally applicable yet fail to take into account even the most basic context and nature of the loss – such who was lost and under what conditions the loss occurred. Cicero, a Roman Stoic, following the death of his daughter Tullia in childbirth, wrote that “grief is the rack itself…; it consumes, torments, afflicts, and disgraces a man; it tears him, preys upon his mind, and utterly destroys him: if we do not so divest ourselves of it as to throw it completely off, we cannot be free from misery.” Searching for such divestment, he tells the story of Anaxagoras, who, upon being told of the death of his son, said simply and tearlessly, “I knew that I had borne a mortal.” There is nothing in Cacciatore’s book that will challenge Cicero’s extreme judgment of grief’s pain – far from it. However, the book does persuasively and importantly challenge the idea that the goal of helping people grieving extreme loss is to throw grief off and divest oneself of it or protect oneself as did Anaxagoras, not only because in many cases that is impossible, but because it is the wrong path to healing.
Jerome Wakefield, PhD, Professor NYU School of Medicine
Author of The Loss of Sadness
Bearing the Unbearable: How difficult this is in a culture that denies and distances itself from the well of sorrow. This book is a wise guide, intimate and tender, fierce and wise, reminding us what it means to fully love. Cacciatore invites the dead to come close by and help us to live again, even in the face of the unbearable. She knows the territory of loss and has returned with essential guidance for a people who no longer remember how to navigate the sacred terrain of grief. This is a holy book, riddled with insight and compassion. It will bless all of us in our times of sorrow.
Author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief
Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief, by Joanne Cacciatore, covers the incredibly difficult topic of grief. With the insight that only someone who has experienced deep personal grief can offer, the author shares wisdom and advice for dealing with the most painful losses.
The book is gentle but honest. It does not dismiss grief or offer useless platitudes. It does not teach skills or practices intended to overcome or move beyond grief. Instead, using specific examples from Cacciatore's own life and from the lives of those whom she has counseled, the book embraces the idea that grief is the other side of love, and that it is necessary to truly experience it, to acknowledge and accept that it can occupy a permanent place in the heart and mind. The book focuses on living with grief and allows for the possibility that love and happiness, even beauty and joy, can exist in tandem with the kind of grief that never ends.
The book includes many helpful ideas for living with grief. The author states, "Grief, by its very nature, is labyrinthine and enigmatic; its implications are emotional, physical, social and interpersonal, economic, spiritual, and existential.” The techniques for living with grief are therefore as myriad as the ways it can affect one’s life. Examples include everything from simply making self-care a priority to keeping an emotional journal, observing cultural or religious rituals, and joining support groups and working to help others who are dealing with grief.
Bearing the Unbearable is an especially powerful book. It is not just for those who have suffered a loss. Anyone who's trying to deal with a loss, or anyone who know someone dealing with a loss, (and in truth, isn't that everyone?) will benefit from reading this amazing book.
This book represents an approach to grief that moves beyond platitudes and cliche. It offers a way to truly grow through grief that is not a moving beyond but is more of an organic decaying and recycling of the soul. It offers hope for those who feel like their loss has disconnected themselves forever from humanity and the circle of life. There is something for everyone in this garden that will restore and rejuvenate. I would highly recommend this book!
Doug Bremner, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry, Emory University
Author of The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg and You Can't Just Snap Out of It
In today's happiness-focused world, expressing the unbearable grief of losing a loved one may seem taboo, but disavowing your misery is the last thing a person should do. So writes Joanne Cacciatore, an expert on trauma and bereavement and a Zen priest who herself lost a child. If we wait too long to address the pain of grief, she says, it can "become toxic and poison our very souls." In Bearing the Unbearable, Cacciatore argues that opening up to grief, as painful as it is, allows us to experience a greater sense of belonging, warmth, and love. Using real-life examples from her experience counseling sufferers of traumatic grief-and from her own journey after losing a baby daughter-she leads readers down a path of renewal. This book won't help us bypass the pain of grief. Instead, it will give us "a safe place to feel, to be with our understandably broken heart," and then, after confronting grief, to "reclaim our fully human wholeness."
At a time when even the most normal of human experiences, such as grief and suffering, are being pathologized and medicated by a bio-psychiatric industry, Bearing the Unbearable, is an honest and courageous examination of the most common of human experiences. Our culture, through effective advertising, has equated normal with comfortable, but anyone who has lost a loved one knows that grief is uncomfortable, and yet normal. If someone is uncomfortable long enough to begin to make those around them uncomfortable, they are quickly assured that they have developed a mental illness, which will require treatment, and frequently a devastating legacy of psychiatric medications and damage to every system of their bodies, when what they needed was permission to suffer, as often and for as long as it takes. Dr. Cacciatore’s powerful book doesn’t stop with delineating the process of grief. Through the telling of her own story, the stories of others, and through a demonstration of a wide variety of helpful tools and reformulations, Dr. Cacciatore shows grieving human beings how to reclaim the process as normal and sacred, and how to insist on defining the process for themselves, which leads to powerful healing.
Economically speaking, if everyone faced grief as Dr. Cacciatore and her clients do, we would save millions of dollars annually in wasted healthcare costs: costs that are incurred by pathologizing normal human suffering, by prescribing unnecessary medications, and by addressing the iatrogenic results. This book will become a staple in my practice, and as well as at Warfighter ADVANCE programs.
Mary Neal Vieten, PhD, ABPP
Executive Director, WARFIGHTER ADVANCE
CDR, Medical Service Corps, USN(rc)
A guide toward fully inhabited grief
The term selah itself derives from the Hebrew word celah, noted in the book of Psalms to remind the reader to pause, reflect, and contemplate meaning. The idea is to cultivate an authentic, tolerant, and enriching relationship between mourners and their grief, one that unites their suffering in pause, reflection, and meaning, and mourners find their own path in their own way and in their own time.
This interactive book is a guide through traumatic grief that you can use in counseling or therapy to enhance coping with Dr. Cacciatore's published Selah model, a contemplative and gentle approach that includes being with grief, surrendering to grief, and then compassionate action, doing with grief. Order Selah here.
"This book has been the most powerful tool I've used since my daughter's death... I felt immediate peace and comfort and even the pain started to make sense... I didn't feel crazy any longer."
J.L., Tucson, Arizona
This book is one of those rare books on a mother's grief that is totally absorbed into your understanding. "Dear Cheyenne" is written in such a way that many are unable to put the book down. It is a true story of death, desperation, and destitution as a woman struggles to cope with the death of her young daughter. She shares poignant poetry and miraculous experiences along her journey that inspires others and helps others heal. Now in its fifth printing, Dear Cheyenne promises to be the best yet. Journey through the darkness and emerge a victor, truly changing the world...all because a little child lived and died.
The World of Bereavement:
on Death in Families
This visionary work explores the sensitive balance between the personal and private aspects of grief, the social and cultural variables that unite communities in bereavement, and the universal experience of loss. Its global journey takes readers into the processes of coping, ritual, and belief across established and emerging nations, indigenous cultures, and countries undergoing major upheavals, richly detailed by native scholars and practitioners. In these pages, culture itself is recognized as formed through many lenses, from the ancestral to the experiential. The human capacity to mourn, endure, and make meaning is examined in papers such as:
Death, grief, and culture in Kenya: experiential strengths-based research.
Death and grief in Korea: the continuum of life and death.
To live with death: loss in Romanian culture.
The Brazilian ways of living, dying, and grieving.
Death and bereavement in Israel: Jewish, Muslim, and Christian perspectives.
Completing the circle of life: death and grief among Native Americans.
It is always normal to remember: death, grief, and culture in Australia.
The World of Bereavement will fascinate and inspire clinicians, providers, and researchers in the field of death studies as well as privately-held professional training programs and the bereavement community in general.