If you're grieving a loved one this holiday season, here's a gift you can give yourself
After losing her almost-4-year-old daughter to epilepsy, Kelly Cervantes created a "grief companion" that meets people wherever they are in their grief journey.
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Kelly Cervantes begins the Introduction to her book with five words: "Grief sucks. It's also weird." It's a concise truth that anyone who has lost a loved one knows all too well.
Grief is a universal experience—none of us get through life without loss—but it's also unique to each person. Most of us are familiar with the popular "stages of grief" theory, but denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (along with guilt and a host of things) are less like sequential rungs on a ladder and more like pools you fall into at various times as you stumble your way through the grief process. Grief is not linear and it's not neat and tidy and it's not predictable.
Take it from someone who's been there. Kelly Cervantes lost her daughter, Adelaide, to epilepsy just shy of her 4th birthday. Using writing as a therapeutic tool to help her process Adelaide's medically complex life, death and everything that came after, Kelly created the book she wished she'd had as she was trying to navigate her own grieving process.
"Normal Broken: The Grief Companion for When It's Time To Heal But You're Not Sure You Want To" is a raw, honest, helpful and ultimately hopeful resource for anyone experiencing grief. Each chapter deals with a different aspect of grief, with chapter titles ranging from "When Getting Out of Bed Deserves a Medal" to "When Your Greatest Fear is Socializing to "When Gratitude is a Struggle" to "When You're Ready to Be Okay."
I sat down with Kelly for an Upworthy Book Club author chat about her book, and our discussion offers some glimpses into the experience and wisdom she shares in "Normal Broken." We talked about the loneliness that can come with grief, which is a weird thing considering the fact that it's something all of us experience at some point. As Kelly pointed out, sometimes that loneliness is because grief changes us and the people around us don't always accept that.
We also chatted about how different people grieve differently, and how she and her husband Miguel's different grieving styles after Adelaide's death caused some tension between them for a while until Kelly learned how to "outsource" what she needed in her own grieving process.
"Normal Broken" is designed such that you can pick and choose which chapters to read in any order. If you're struggling with feelings of guilt, which is common after someone passes away, you can pick up Chapter 5: "When the Voice in the Back of Your Head Won't Shut Up." If you're feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, you can open up to Chapter 12: "When You're Feeling Emotionally Hungover" and find a friend who gets it.
The thing about grief is that nothing about it feels normal, but whatever you're experiencing in your grieving process probably is normal.
"One of the biggest lessons that I learned [writing about grief] was that I'm not that special," Kelly says. "And I mean that in the nicest way. I'm special in all the ways that Mr. Rogers and 'Sesame Street' taught me that I was. But what I experience, the way grief affects me—in that way, I am not special. My story is unique to me, but my manifestations of grief are not."
Courtesy of Kelly Cervantes
The holidays can be an especially difficult time for people who are missing a loved one. If that's you, give yourself the gift of insight and understanding from someone who's been through an immense loss. It's not a self-help book, it's not a book full of annoying advice—it's a companion that can help you put words to what you're feeling, sit with you in the darkness when that's what. you need, and help you feel okay about feeling okay when the time comes.