LESSONS FROM A GRIEF DIARY: Rebuilding Your Life after the Death of a Loved One


Rebuilding Your Life after the Death of a Loved One

Written by Judy Dykstra Brown and Dr. Anthony Moriarty

Reviewed by Harriet Hart


lessons-from-a-grief-diaryPoised to begin the perfect retirement in Mexico, Bob Brown was diagnosed with cancer and given less than a year to live. He died three weeks later. His widow, Judy, chose to relocate to their dream home, alone. This book is about that journey: “It is a story of grief and redemption, learning, change, remarkable love and frustrating adaptation to a new life. It is the story of nursing a dying husband at home alone, as he wished it to be, the seeming end of a love story that somehow managed to stretch out for years after his death – a story that continues even now that I finally feel free to reach out for what might be the next big love of my life.”

Judy’s portion of the book consists of journal entries, emails, poems and essays written during her ordeal. Co-author, Dr. Anthony Moriarty, provides a professional perspective in alternating chapters. Their dialogue makes the book unique, giving “contrasting sides of the picture: spiritual/clinical; personal/objective; emotional/detached.”

Dr. Moriarty writes: “nearly 2,400,000 people die in the US annually and each leave an average of four mourners. Most people muddle through their grief in a very personal way, isolated in their pain despite incredible numbers of those who experience the same intense feeling of being alone.”

Readers of this book who are caretaking a dying loved one or grieving someone’s loss will realize that they have company. Both authors are honest in confronting the complex emotions death brings. For instance, Judy finds Bob “cantankerous” and experiences relief when their ordeal ends. Dr. M comments that this stage is “only the eye of the hurricane. Soon the storm of grief will be upon her.”

And make no mistake, it is a storm. Judy describes her initial reaction: “I take turns wailing, looking at myself in the mirror to set myself straight and doing things like thinking, walking, crying, and watching videos of “Absolutely Fabulous…”

Dr. M observes that “the end of a life does not necessarily bring about the end of a relationship.” Judy knows that moving to a new country gives her “new ways of perceiving the world.”

Over time Judy realizes that the purchase of Bob’s dream house in Mexico was his final gift to her. She is tempted to participate in Mexican death rituals but opts for life instead. She sees signs that she interprets as Bob attempting to communicate with her. Dr. M calls this “superstitious thinking,” one means of coping. Another is expressing oneself through art. Judy is a writer and she makes memorial boxes called retablos which is cathartic for her.

The authors address negative reactions associated with grief, including guilt, loneliness, withdrawal and anger, but Judy learns grief’s positive lessons including the liberation of widowhood: “Yes, I have lost my life’s companion of fifteen years, my art collaborator, my loyal supporter and the love of my life. But I’ve also lost my severest critic, the man who for fifteen years usurped my side of the bed…and left his shoes strewn like unstrung pearls throughout the house.”

The book ends positively. After many years of pain, Judy is ready to date again. Now she knows that “grief holds the seeds of life. If you refuse to learn the lessons grief teaches, the gifts it gives, then you are, in a sense, refusing life.”


Ojo Del Lago
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