Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 18, 2016

Coping with Grief (1996), by Mal McKissock and Diane McKissock, read by Andrew Mcfarlane

coping-with-grief I’m not really one for reading self-help books, and indeed the fact that after blogging everything I’ve read since 2007 I’ve had to introduce the category just for this book is an indication of that…

But Coping with Grief was there at the library when I was browsing for audio books to listen to on my daily trip to Keysborough to visit my father in aged care, and I thought, why not, maybe there’s something to learn.  It’s many years since I read Kubler-Ross on the stages of grief, a book which was not a self-help book but rather an explanation of the process, one which I have recognised in myself in different contexts as well as in others around me:

  1. Denial – The first reaction is denial. In this stage individuals believe the diagnosis is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.
  2. Anger – When the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue, they become frustrated, especially at proximate individuals. Certain psychological responses of a person undergoing this phase would be: “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”; “Why would this happen?”.
  3. Bargaining – The third stage involves the hope that the individual can avoid a cause of grief. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek compromise.
  4. Depression – “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon, so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
    During the fourth stage, the individual despairs at the recognition of their mortality. In this state, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time mournful and sullen.
  5. Acceptance – “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
    In this last stage, individuals embrace mortality or inevitable future, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. People dying may precede the survivors in this state, which typically comes with a calm, retrospective view for the individual, and a stable condition of emotions.  (Wikipedia, viewed 18/9/16).

Coping With Grief talks about these aspects of grieving, but also covers the difficult first year, physical reactions, the funeral and children.  They spend some time acknowledging how hard the first year can be, and how there can be physical reactions such as illness and tiredness which may crop up weeks or even months or years after the bereavement.   They also say that it’s a pity that most workplaces only offer three days of bereavement leave, which puts pressure on to have the funeral on the third day, when perhaps people are not really ready for it, and when the unfortunate consequence can be that the support of family and friends can sometimes dissipate too quickly afterwards.

The book is not just written for the bereaved: it’s also intended as a guide for all of us when we are supporting them.  There are suggestions for what to say, and also what not to say.  Expressions like ‘time heals’ are not helpful to people who cannot at that stage imagine ever feeling any better than they do at the time.  Religious sentiments are not welcome for non-believers either: I remember feeling a most unholy rage when some years ago religious work colleagues kept telling me that they would pray for me when my much-loved music teacher died; it was all I could do to keep my temper – and really, since I’m sure they had good intentions, I don’t think that what they intended was to add to my stress levels!  People also don’t like to be told that others ‘understand’ – the truth is that we don’t ‘understand’ the grief of others, not at all.  And another no-no is to do what I have to admit I myself have done: to say ‘if there’s anything I can do, let me know’.   If you’re going to do something – make a meal, do the shopping, mow the grass – just do it.

To be honest, I don’t think there’s anything special about this guide, there are probably dozens of similar books equally as good, though the audio book format suited me at this time.  The authors themselves say that seeking professional help from a grief counsellor may be what is needed in some situations, especially if there are personal issues that you don’t want to share with friends or family.   But what I would suggest is that it’s a good idea to learn about grief and grieving beforehand in whatever way suits you best – because losses of all kinds can crop up and most of us don’t know how to handle it very well, and are not as good as we could be in supporting others.   It’s not just about death and dying – people feel a loss when a marriage fails, when children grow up and move far away, when they suffer physical disability or chronic illness and can no longer do the things they used to do, and when conditions like dementia rob them of the relationships they had with loved ones.  (Just last week I met a middle-aged man whose wife had early onset dementia, and he was struggling with all kinds of grief about that).

Of course no one wants to think about grief when all is well, but it’s a bit like pre-paying for a funeral, it’s a great help if you are prepared!

Authors: Mal McKissock and Dianne McKissock
Title: Coping with Grief
Publisher: ABC Books/Vision Australia, 1996
ISBN: 9781864825596
Source: Kingston Library





  1. I agree that it’s useful to think and learn about things like this before you need them – it’s like first-aid – there’s no point trying to ‘learn’ it when it’s actually needed and you’re not thinking clearly. Obviously you’ll never know how you’ll grieve when the time comes – it’s different for everyone and at different times – but if only a few things from the book stick, then that’s better than nothing.

    I’ve just finished a memoir that was about a very intense period of grieving. One of the things that the author talked about was the struggle between her own grief and everyone else ‘moving on’ – as she says, “Closure is bulls**t”.


    • Yes, this book talks about that disconnect between how the bereaved feel and everyone else moving on. That ‘s when, they say, professional help can be useful, because the need for support is still there.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, important to realise the stages beforehand. It sounds silly, but I know I went through a grieving process when I was made redundant in 2010.


    • I don’t think it sounds silly… the work we do is central to our identity and a shock like that only gets compounded by the uncertainty that follows. And inevitably you lose some of your friends too…
      I think we have to be careful of ranking different kinds of grief, as if some kinds are more ‘worthy’ or more ‘justified’ than others. That used to happen with the grief of miscarriage, as if it were insignificant, but it’s not.


  3. Lovely post, Lisa, that many of your readers will appreciate. When my father was diagnosed with dementia within days of us finding out about John’s asbestosis and lung cancer, I entered an intense period of grieving – watching the two men I loved disintegrate – one mentally and one physically. Ironically, Dad although much older outlived John by 3 years. I read every book offered and recommended, including Kubler-Ross and the authors you review, Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen To Good People and The Grief Recovery Handbook – books for myself and to help my daughters. A book that worked for me later when I had to deal with a few more of life’s surprises was Mark Epstein’s, Going To Pieces Without Falling Apart. I loved his humour, common sense and spirituality and wish the person I lent it to didn’t find it so wonderful because I’d love it back:) I don’t believe you can ever really prepare for the dying of a person you love but preparing to cope with or at least understand your grief is a good thing.


    • Well, Mairi, you’ve certainly had your share of grief, and more…
      I agree that you can’t really prepare, but I think that having some idea of what’s in store in your personal toolbox can certainly help us to be better friends to the bereaved.

      Liked by 1 person

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