Book review: The Grief Survival Guide by Jeff Brazier

Jeff Brazier’s Grief Survival Guide is down-to-earth, packed full of good advice and not afraid of tackling the more difficult aspects of bereavement.


This is a book that says okay, this situation is awful but it’s happening so let’s roll up our sleeves and tackle it. The only problem I have with it is that calling the book a bereavement guide means most people won’t read it, when really, it is a very good, practical guide to life.


Jeff Brazier is a qualified life coach with a busy practice. His early years were challenging but he became a professional footballer before becoming a success on reality shows. He has two sons from a relationship with reality star Jade Goody and they shared parenting until Jade’s death in 2009. The boys are now teenagers and Jeff is a regular presenter on breakfast television.


The examples in the book draw on Jeff’s own experience and on case studies from his work as a life coach. In one instance Jeff is trying to talk with his grandmother about the death of her son, Jeff’s dad: she avoids the subject initially, then talks very frankly for a while before dropping the subject when there’s clearly a lot more to be said. It’s rare to find such a realistic example of a conversation in a self-help book.


Grief is never just about grief and the examples given have a relatable level of complexity. The people Jeff discusses often need time to work out what the problem is to begin with.


There are no quick fixes but there are lots of tools, approaches and ideas to try. Each of these help in making sense of and moving forward through bits of grief or related problems, one at a time.


In one case where a woman had experienced many bereavements in a relatively short space of time and was struggling to make sense of how to even start thinking about them, the suggestion was to select an object from the table in front of her to represent each person who’d died. She was then asked to accept that she couldn’t grieve for them all at once and so to prioritise them.


It sounds easy but when your head is swimming, making your problems into objects that you can organise in front of you, sounds much more helpful than trying to talk it all through.


The opening chapters deal with receiving a terminal diagnosis. If grief has made you more anxious about your own health, the information here is surprisingly reassuring. It hadn’t occurred to me that there are quite so many ways to knowingly approach death or how many constructive things you can do to help yourself and those you’re leaving behind.


Other topics in this book that most grief how-tos don’t tackle include death by crime, gradual death by dementia, the death of an unborn child, when the last conversation was an argument, and grief and social media.


There’s a chapter called The Trouble with Men, on how men tend to not talk about their problems and what they can do to help themselves with that.


There is also lots, as you might expect, on parenting and helping kids with their grief. He is frank about what he regrets and wishes he’d done differently, and he also shares lots of ideas to try. One example is that he and his kids have a mother’s day every month, entailing any activity the kids enjoy. They have fun, do different activities, and chat about their mum, which makes sure that the memory of their mum is attached to things they really enjoy.


There are some great lines that help in getting you unstuck, such as, “sadness doesn’t equal respect”.


Often we’re told that there is a gift, important lesson or invaluable strength to be taken from every bad experience, including the death of a loved one. Few authors acknowledge how impossible or uncomfortable this sounds to the newly bereaved, but Jeff does and somehow manages to give you permission, if you need it.


On his take on the positive to be taken from the negative, he says: “I’m a great believer in the idea that a loss should inspire us to want more, be more, have more, for in the face of loss we have seen first hand that life is precious and to be made the most of, seeing as there is absolutely no guarantee as to how long any of us have.”


It’s been a big year for grief books – none for ages and then three come along at once. Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B packs in the references to studies and interviews with all kinds of people, and presents them with her impressive combination of being a high flyer that’s very open about her feelings.


Julia Samuels’, Grief Works, digs deep into how grief affects the many layers of a person’s life and exposes the fault lines running through all of us. As a psychotherapist, she shows her methods through different case studies, emphasises the importance of getting to know ourselves and is sure to show you a few ways of looking at yourself that you hadn’t previously considered.


The Grief Survival Guide is a valuable addition to them, with an emphasis firmly on taking action to engage with the assorted pains and confusions of grief. It is kind and understanding but it is the work of a former footballer and now life coach, so it feels like a workbook. It doesn’t shy away from telling you what not to do, and the audiobook version even has Jeff’s voice cheering you along at the same time.


First published in Widows and Widowers magazine Issue 16

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