Joanne E. Sullivan of West Springfield knows grief.
She is a facilitator of grief groups in the region through her work with Fostastiere Funeral Homes, and her husband and the father of her three sons died in a car accident in December 1977. Nineteen years later, in September 1996, her 21-year-old son Matthew Scott Sullivan also died suddenly.
Joanne certainly knows grief, and in her book, The Reality of Loss, she offers the story of losing her son as well as tips on managing grief.
Joanne doesn’t pretend to be a writer, but her experience and her knowledge about grief comes through so clearly and completely in her book. I wept as I read about her hearing the news of her son’s death from a police officer over the telephone.
I could relate to the surreal quality of a subsequent conversation between Joanne and her best friend Pat as they both repeated “Matthew is dead” over and over, sometimes as a question, sometimes as a statement, as they both tried to process the news as it was received.
I wanted to protect her surviving sons from the news as she called to tell them their brother was gone.
Joanne’s book is validating for anyone experiencing a grief of any kind. As she says, “Whoever you are grieving, whatever your loss, when you close the door to your home, your grief is the worst grief. Your pain is the worst pain, and you have to go through the process of grieving it.”
Joanne offers ideas on handling holidays as well as answers to questions like “How do I know if I am grieving the right way?” She also offers suggestions on what not to say to someone who is grieving and thoughts on what is appropriate to say.
I am still a sponge for any material on grief, and I was grateful not only to have Joanne’s book but to have met her. She is a kind, compassionate person. I like that she knows that grief is something a person will always carry.
As Joanne says on her book’s jacket, “We have to learn how to restructure our lives rather than retreat from life. This does not happen in six months or a year, it happens over a life time. It is a long continuum of joy and hardship.”
For me, as of March 14, a year and a half has gone by since Ed died, but there is not a moment when I don’t think about him. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t tear up at least once. I am on the long continuum.
I particularly like Joanne’s question to readers: “What attributes from our loved one will we now make a part of us?”
For me, it is patience. I am trying to take on Ed’s patience so as not to rush my grief or my life in any way. I am trying to live in each moment and to slow down and be thorough, as he was.
I knew the answer to the question many months ago, but I loved that Joanne posed it. Somehow, it makes my experience, my answer, that much more real.
To purchase Joanne’s book, visit www.grief-therealityofloss.com.