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Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief (Paperback)
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If you love, you will grieve—and nothing is more mysteriously central to becoming fully human.
Foreword INDIES Award-Winner — Gold Medal for Self-Help
When a loved one dies, the pain of loss can feel unbearable—especially in the case of a traumatizing death that leaves us shouting, “NO!” with every fiber of our body. The process of grieving can feel wild and nonlinear—and often lasts for much longer than other people, the nonbereaved, tell us it should.
Organized into fifty-two short chapters, Bearing the Unbearable is a companion for life’s most difficult times, revealing how grief can open our hearts to connection, compassion, and the very essence of our shared humanity. Dr. Joanne Cacciatore—bereavement educator, researcher, Zen priest, and leading counselor in the field—accompanies us along the heartbreaking path of love, loss, and grief. Through moving stories of her encounters with grief over decades of supporting individuals, families, and communities—as well as her own experience with loss—Cacciatore opens a space to process, integrate, and deeply honor our grief.
Not just for the bereaved, Bearing the Unbearable will be required reading for grief counselors, therapists and social workers, clergy of all varieties, educators, academics, and medical professionals. Organized into fifty-two accessible and stand-alone chapters, this book is also perfect for being read aloud in support groups.
About the Author
Dr. Joanne Cacciatore has a fourfold relationship with bereavement. She is herself a bereaved mother: her newborn daughter died on July 27, 1994, and that single tragic moment catapulted her unwillingly onto the reluctant path of traumatic grief. For more than two decades, she’s devoted herself to direct practice with grief, helping traumatically bereaved people on six continents. She’s also been researching and writing about grief for more than a decade in her role as associate professor at Arizona State University and director of the Graduate Certificate in Trauma and Bereavement program there. And, in addition, she’s the founder of an international nongovernmental organization, the MISS Foundation dedicated to providing multiple forms of support to families experiencing the death of a child at any age and from any cause, and since 1996 has directed the foundation’s family services and clinical education programs.
Cacciatore is an ordained Zen priest, affiliated with Zen Garland and its child bereavement center outside of New York City. She is in the process of building the a “care-farm” and respite center for the traumatically bereaved, just outside Sedona, Arizona. The care-farm will offer a therapeutic community that focuses on reconnecting with self, others, and nature in the aftermath of loss through gardening, meditation, yoga, group work, animals, and other nonmedicalized approaches. All the animals at the care-farm will have been rescued from abuse and neglect.
She is an acclaimed public speaker and provides expert consulting and witness services in the area of traumatic loss. Her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals such as The Lancet, Social Work and Healthcare, and Death Studies, among others.
She received her PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in psychology from Arizona State University. Her work has been featured in major media sources such as People and Newsweek magazines, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, CNN, National Public Radio, and the Los Angeles Times. She has been the recipient of many regional and national awards for her empathic work and service to people suffering traumatic grief.
She travels quite often but spends most of her time in Sedona, Arizona, with her family and three rescue dogs. She also has three horses that are part of her Rescue Horses Rescue People equine therapy program.
Dr. Jeffrey Rubin is among the leading authorities on the integration of meditation and psychotherapy. He’s the author of Practicing Meditative Psychotherapy and The Art of Flourishing. He lives in New York.
“An especially powerful book. It is not just for those who have suffered a loss. Anyone who's trying to deal with a loss, or anyone who know someone dealing with a loss, (and in truth, isn't that everyone?) will benefit from reading this amazing book.”
— Foreword Reviews
“Simultaneously heartwrenching and uplifting. Cacciatore offers practical guidance on coping with profound and life-changing grief. This book is destined to be a classic, simply the best book I have ever read on the process of grief.”
— Huffington Post
“In this poignant, heartrending, and heart-lifting book, Joannne Cacciatore teaches how loss is transformed to peace, devastating grief to active and practical love. Beautifully, beautifully written, Bearing the Unbearable is for all those who have grieved, will grieve, or support others through bereavement.”
— Gabor Maté MD, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
“A wise guide—intimate, tender, and fierce—reminding us what it means to fully love. This is a holy book, riddled with insight and compassion. It will bless all of us in our times of sorrow.”
— Francis Weller, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief
“There are sentences in this luminous book that took my breath away. With penetrating insight and tender warmth, Dr. Jo meets the broken-hearted where we live: in an utterly transformed and transformational space. This is the secret potion I have been yearning for, offered from a brimming cup.”
— Mirabai Starr, author of Caravan of No Despair: A Memoir of Loss and Transformation
“A truly remarkable book.”
— Robert D. Stolorow, author of Trauma and Human Existence
“Bearing the Unbearable is an experience more than a book. In recounting many cases from her extraordinary therapy practice devoted to helping people who are undergoing severe and traumatic grief, the book offers the reader an experience that—like grief itself—is painful but for which one will be deeply grateful afterwards. Cacciatore’s amazing book shows us through its many emotionally gripping examples–guaranteed to trigger readers’ own lurking tears—much that is novel and illuminating about the ineffable depth and labyrinthine nature of intense grief.”
— Dr. Jerome Wakefield, DSW, PhD, Professor, NYU School of Medicine and author of The Loss of Sadness
“An approach to grief that moves beyond platitudes and cliché. It offers a way to truly grow through grief that is not a moving beyond but is more of an organic composting and recycling of the soul. It offers hope for those who feel like their loss has disconnected themselves forever from humanity and the circle of life. There is something for everyone in this garden that will restore and rejuvenate. I would highly recommend this book!”
— Doug Bremner MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Emory University, and author of The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg
“At a time when even the most normal of human experiences, such as grief and suffering, are being pathologized and medicated by a bio-psychiatric industry, Bearing the Unbearable is an honest and courageous examination of the most common of human experiences…Dr. Cacciatore’s powerful book doesn’t stop with delineating the process of grief. [It] shows grieving human beings how to reclaim the process as normal and sacred, and how to insist on defining the process for themselves, which leads to powerful healing…This book will become a staple in my practice, and as well as at Warfighter ADVANCE programs.”
— Mary Neal Vieten, PhD, ABPP, Executive Director, WARFIGHTER ADVANCE
“This masterpiece is the greatest gift I could give to someone entrenched in grief, or to the loved ones of the bereaved.”
— The Tattooed Buddha
“When we feel pain, our natural instinct is to do something to make the pain go away. But what can we do if the pain is unbearable and will never go away? Joanne Cacciatore learned about this kind of unbearable pain when she suffered the death of her own child. In her book Bearing the Unbearable, she tells us in a deeply personal way about this experience of unbearable traumatic grief and what she learned from it about healing, and she also tells us, in a series of very moving personal stories, what she has learned from her life’s work helping others in their healing. She learned that, while our instinct may be to make the suffering go away, our deepest need is to feel the suffering, to experience it fully, as often and as long as the suffering demands to be felt. Because it is only by deeply and repeatedly feeling our suffering that the process of healing can occur. As Joanne describes it this healing is a profoundly mysterious process in which the suffering doesn’t change but in the process of not changing is paradoxically transformed into healing. So bearing the unbearable is not impossible. It is the only way to heal. But how exactly does that healing happen? One aspect that Joanne emphasizes is that in the process of fully experiencing our unbearable suffering we come to accept the unavoidability of the suffering and our own helplessness in it, and in that acceptance we discover a new compassion, first for ourselves and then for all our suffering fellow human beings. Another aspect is that we cannot and should not feel so much suffering alone; that to heal we need to be able to feel and express our suffering to another person who understands and accept it and feel it with us. Ideally, it should be a person who can continue to understand, accept, and feel it with us throughout all the weeks, months, and years that we will continue needing to feel it. Such a person is a true healer. Such a person is Joanne Cacciatore.”
— Elio Frattaroli, MD, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain