There are some parts of life that are unavoidable. To love is to someday lose, as Kathleen Sullivan had to learn the hard way early on. Grief and Self-Care is her offering to loss, a guidebook to self-compassion during one of the hardest experiences we will ever go through as human beings. While Sullivan herself recognizes that the book can’t make the pain go away (nor should it), it can make the time and process gentler on the griever.
A short book that is strategic in its brevity for the scattered minds of grievers, this book is an important one that shouldn’t be overlooked from your library. But to fully understand why, it’s important to dig deeper into its history.
Thank you to Kathleen Sullivan for ‘sitting down’ with me to chat about her book, her future publications, and the history around this little gem that I’m certain will go on to change lives.
(If you haven’t yet, you can check out my book review of Grief and Self-Care.)
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am originally from Boston, MA. I moved to Pittsburgh, PA a year after my father died in hopes of getting back into the swing of a “normal” life again. As a 28-year-old, I have experienced more grief than the average person does in their lifetime. Instead of letting the depression run my life, I decided to take everything I know & continue to learn to help others through their grief and loss.
Tell us about your book, Grief & Self Care.
Grief & Self Care shares my personal story of loss as well as several proven self-care techniques that can make your journey through grief a little less difficult. I wrote this book because when I was going through the height of my grief after my dad died, I realized there wasn’t much information out there about how to care for yourself through grief. So I put some information out there in hopes that it will make someone else’s journey a little less difficult. It covers topics like journaling, pets, professional help, and even has a section about what not to say to someone who is grieving.
What is your favorite book, and has it inspired how you write? How?
My favorite book is Suicidal by Jesse Bering. This book is about why we kill ourselves. It is a tough read but I highly recommend it. It is brutally honest, eye-opening, and informative. This book has inspired me to always continue to put information out there that answers questions and helps the people who need answers. It also inspires me to write about the taboo because although it may be taboo for one person, someone else may be desperately needing the information you possess.
What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book?
The main take-away I want readers to get from my book is that it is okay to slow down and take care of yourself. Take all the time YOU need to grieve, not what your company policy says and not what someone else has told you. Grief is unique to everyone, put yourself first.
I have unfortunately experienced my own grief journey in relation to my late wife, and one of the things that was always explained in grief counseling despite it’s debate are the five stages of grief as noted by Kubler-Ross. Do you have your own opinions formed on those stages, or other described stages (as there are many alternate theories)?
This is such a great question. Not known to too many people, there are actually six stages denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and meaning. I certainly believe that every grieving individual goes through these feelings and emotions but I am not a fan of the word stages. It insinuates that you have to go through them in sequential order and then people start to overthink why they aren’t at a different stage yet. I look at the “stages” as a guide, a person can expect to experience these six things but could possibly only experience a few of them.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was spot on that an individual goes through these feelings however, I think it could have been better described and shown that it varies per person, etc. I personally was struck with anger first, never really touched bargaining, then hit denial and meaning, and then once I found meaning is when I started to accept my father’s loss.
What is different about your book?
Grief and Self-Care is different based on the basis behind the book. It is based solely on self-care techniques to make it through the grieving process naturally. Never once does it suggest medication as a route, as I personally do not find the benefit of medications. The source of succeeding is empowerment and personal strength which is more powerful than any medication out there.
In her book Resilient Grieving by Lucy Hone, she describes the ‘grief reaction’ versus the ‘grief response.’ The reaction being how you react to the grief (sorrow, sadness, depression) and the response being at a later date where you decide what to do with your grief moving forward. How do you feel about this explanation, and how do you think self-care ties into how we can move forward with grief?
I think that Lucky Hone was spot on with her explanation. Self-care is crucial to the grief reaction as well as the grief response in its own way. When the reaction first smacks you in the face, it is imperative that you take a step back from your “normal” life and take the time to process the loss. An example of not doing this would be when someone decides to “throw themselves into work”. That is the opposite of self-care and you are just ignoring the loss. With the grief response, putting self-care at the top of your list of things to do can really make a difference in how the grief affects your life after the loss. Meaning, when you finally go back to work, you can actually focus on your work and get the job done without being heavily distracted.
What are your plans for future books?
I wrote a grief journal that includes writing prompts a couple of weeks after the release of Grief & Self Care. I plan to continue writing about grief in hopes to spread awareness and teach others that it is okay to let yourself feel whatever feelings surround their grief.
What inspires you to write?
My love for helping others is what inspires me to write. I am also an aunt to two beautiful kids back home in Boston and I want them to learn to grow up in a world that is a little bit kinder than the one we live in now. I grew up in a family that values philanthropy & that is a large part of who I am today. I live to help make other peoples lives a little bit easier.
What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?
The most enjoyable thing about publishing is seeing my work actually help people. Even if it is constructive criticism I value it immensely. The biggest struggle with publishing my book is marketing it, however I have touched into my creative side a little bit more and have some exciting things up my sleeve to try.
What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?
Grief is a large topic, there are thousands of different things you can talk about when it comes to grief. My greatest struggle writing is narrowing it down and making my books short enough that it isn’t a struggle to read. In today’s society people are always on the move and moving at faster speeds than ever before, the last thing I want is someone to not purchase my book because it is too long for them to read, they don’t have enough “time”. So I do my best to organize my thoughts and leave the “filler” out. I would rather have a bunch of shorter books highly concentrated on the specific topic than a large book that has a lot of “stuff” in it. In order to overcome this, I suggest a lot of organizing, brainstorming and outlining throughout the whole writing process.
How can we purchase your book?
You can purchase Grief and Self-Care on Amazon. It is available in paperback and kindle.