Monday, November 16, 2009

REVIEW: Transforming the Valley of Grief by Thomas O. Mason

A Grief Manual For Men Coping With Loss

When Tom Mason’s wife was diagnosed with liver cancer, he had only weeks to prepare for the coming waves of grief. After weeks of hospice care, a house packed with women bringing food and cleaning, planning for a funeral and burial and spending every possible moment with his family, Mason entered the valley of grief as a single man. He had lost forty pounds due to stress and anxiety. He was fearful and lonely, and he soon discovered that there was no real roadmap to guide him through the valley. The grief hit him like a tsunami.

Mason is the author of the new book Transforming the Valley of Grief: Men Finding Hope and Their Path Following the Loss of a Loved One, a resource designed specifically to meet the needs of grieving men. “When my wife died and the valley of grief was thrust upon me, I looked long and hard for books on grieving written from a Christian male perspective. I wanted to know what I, as a Christian man confronted—no, overwhelmed—by grief could expect as a process,” Tom recalls. “I found several excellent books about grief, but no real manual that would be like a trail for me to follow through the valley. So in writing this book, my aim is to help grieving men all I can by sharing what I believe to be common male experiences along the way, some of which I have not seen discussed by other authors.”

Transforming the Valley of Grief follows Mason’s own journey from the moment the tsunami of grief crashed into his life, through the peaceful, solitary moments meeting God in the wilderness, in the times where unexpected memories triggered flash floods of emotion and to the moment when the valley opened up and he was able to fully embrace his changed life. The book includes many specific, practical tips for both grieving men and those who love them and want to support them through the valley. Each chapter concludes with a “notes to self” section with positive suggestions for men to try at different points in their journey of grief and a “notes to others” section. At the back of the book there is a collection of discussion questions perfect for use in a grief support group.

This slim volume is the perfect gift for the friend or loved one who is coping with loss, and it is essential reading for anyone who wants to support a grieving man but doesn’t know what to do or say. Mason offers beautiful spiritual insights, often drawing from the comforting words of the psalmist. But perhaps more important are his detailed directions for surviving single life—everything from how to plan an effective mini-sabbatical and how to find your way as a “pre-married” in the church singles group to what you should do with the leftovers your wife would have made creative use of (toss them and forgive yourself). The loss of a loved one always brings change, and Mason helps readers think through the various decisions they will face as a result (i.e., Should I stay here or move away? Do I want to remarry someday?).

Mason shows readers that, though the journey of grief begins in the darkness of the valley, God will reveal new light, joy and purpose as you “do the work” of grieving and He transforms the valley. “There is hope, even if you can’t believe it right now! There is light at the end of the tunnel,” Mason says. “There is an end to your dark valley, and this book is about getting there and the various steps and stages along the way.”



Q&A with the Author

Q: What was your main purpose in writing Transforming the Valley of Grief?

A: When I began this book, I hoped to write something of a manual of grieving for other men to follow. Everyone experiences grief and loss differently, and I don’t presume to have all the answers. When my wife died and the valley of grief was thrust upon me, I looked long and hard for books on grieving written from a Christian male perspective. I wanted to know what I, as a Christian man confronted—no, overwhelmed—by grief could expect as a process. I found several excellent books about grief, but no real manual that would be like a trail for me to follow through the valley. So in writing this book, my aim is to help grieving men all I can by sharing what I believe to be common male experiences along the way, some of which I have not seen discussed by other authors. I have included many specific, practical tips for both grieving men and those who love them and want to support them through the valley.


Q: You compare losing your wife to liver cancer to being pummeled by a tsunami. What are some specific things than men can do to survive the first overwhelming wave of loss?

A: This “aftermath of the tsunami” period is all about survival. All the books say, “No big changes, at least not for a year,” and I agree. But making quick little changes can be a life-saver. One extremely valuable lesson I learned from grief books and my support group is this: “Be gentle to yourself.” That may mean justifying the cost of hiring a maid, feeding your family frozen entrees and prepared salad and throwing out the leftovers that your wife would have found a creative way to serve again. You will likely be deluged by paperwork during this time—funeral and cemetery arrangements, insurance claims, canceling credit cards, adjusting your joint checking account, etc. At first, these tasks may seem endless, but if there is an upside to all the “aftermath” work, it is that it distracts from the otherwise constant pain of grieving in the early weeks and months. Weekends are essentially devoted to grocery shopping, laundry and straightening up the house. It’s easy to begrudge all that work, but imagine the alternative, with nothing but time on your hands to dwell on your emotions.


Q: Many of us want to be helpful and supportive to those who are going to lose or have just lost a loved one, but we don’t know what to do or say. What advice would you offer for helping a man through the aftermath of loss?

A: It takes tough love to support the grieving. It also takes a blend of sensitivity and courageous action. In the early stages, you need to be “there” without getting in the way. And when the time comes, the support team may need to step in and literally “take over” for the family of the grieving. It takes wisdom to know when and how this should happen. It takes courage to stand in the breach. When my wife Karen came home for hospice care, the ladies of our church took over. Our refrigerator was kept fully stocked with breakfast and lunch foods. Evening meals were delivered on a regular schedule. Our bathrooms and kitchen were cleaned as they had seldom been before. The men cleaned out our gutters and shoveled our walks. They even built Karen’s casket. I also had one special friend who took the initiative with me to broach hard topics and urge me to consider the difficult decisions that were coming my way. “Tom,” he would ask, “are you ready to accept the fact that Karen is dying? Have you made cemetery and funeral arrangements?” You never know when you will be called on to be a “Jonathan” to a grieving “David.”


Here is my review of this incredible book:

First of all, I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to Thomas O. Mason and his publisher for sending me a copy of "Transforming the Valley of Grief" to review for them. I have always been grateful for this generosity, and I am trying to improve at being consistent in taking the time to thank these wonderfully giving individuals in a public forum. I really appreciate your time, effort and expense in making a reviewer copy available to me.

Thomas O. Mason has penned a valuable work in the pages of “Transforming the Valley of Grief: Men Finding Hope and Their Path Following the Loss of a Loved One”. I requested this book because I have watched my husband grieve the loss of both of his parents over the last four years, and have felt helpless in the area of being able to comfort him or lessen his pain in this area.

What this book did was open a dialogue that has proven to be a healthy part of the recovery process. After reading about half of this book, he approached me and started talking about the pain of his own loss and that of others who he has observed over the years. He realized that he still has so much in his life for which to be thankful, and that he should be dwelling on that rather than the loss he has suffered. For this realization and the conversations that this book has initiated, I am very thankful.

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