Grief Works – Julia Samuel


This is a book that goes to the heart of the human condition, and a book that everyone should read at least once. Grief is an integral part of humanity, and how we do and don’t deal with it has serious consequences, for those around us, and equally for our own mental health. The author writes with precision, and a deep well of humanity.

The author takes case studies from her own clinical experience, and has it broken down into general categories e.g. dealing with the death of a child, a partner, a sibling, a parent, and ultimately when you face into your own imminent demise. Grief, she writes, is “profoundly misunderstood”.

It is necessarily a generalist type of book. Yes – the author has specific cases that she details for us, and some are indeed harrowing where the pain being felt is palpable, but the author tries to extrapolate from there some principles or guidelines that may be of general use.

The most important is the ability for people to listen to the person grieving, to sympathise, to understand that there is no quick fix or googleable solution (Did I just invent a word there??).

Everyone grieves in different ways, and for different lengths of time – it is a process which we all need to face at some time, but the phases will be as individual as we are. Sometimes people will need therapists, such as our author, sometimes they just need their friends and family around them. Circumstances will differ according to the nature of the death, and the relationships involved.

The author says it is ok to have happy moments, even in the depth of grief. Anniversaries should be remembered, and with an awareness of the increased emotion around the date.

The world will still spin, heedless of an individual’s grief, but time IS a healer. Everyone will need to heal in their own time, at their own pace, and the author is quick to remind the reader-cum-listener that the greatest gift you can give is your time, just  to be with the person and listen.

What I Liked:

–       Well written, to the point.

–       The author allows us to see how she herself was affected by these stories.

–       Some of the imagery used was very perceptive, for example comparing one of her clients to a cracked mosaic in a Roman villa, once “perfect”, now damaged, and never able to get back to its original state.

–       The author says there are no easy fixes, taking refuge in drink/drugs/careless sex/etc. really will not help, as the grief will be waiting for you when you come back off whatever trip you had been on. A little tough love advice helps.


It is a generalised book, but there is a definite market for it, and I can see where it can be a source of comfort and support for people living through their grief. It cannot help every individual case, but its usefulness is in showing ways to get through it, and that it is ok not to have “gotten over” your grief when society expects you to. It is humanely written, full of compassion and care for her clients, and people reading this will know they are not alone in their grief and misery.

She deals with survivor’s guilt as well, a particular story about a Pakistani lady really brought that home, where one sister felt absolutely helpless as her sister’s body slowly deteriorated over time. It was humbling to read of all the emotions she went through, including anger.

In summary, a useful book to have at hand, but will not be a cure-all. It should be read with a view to increasing your own capacity for compassion and understanding, for helping someone in time of need.


Thanks to the author and NetGalley for sending me a free copy of this book, in return for an honest and objective review.

3 thoughts on “Grief Works – Julia Samuel

  1. Sooner or later, everyone comes face to face with grief. With personal experience of that journey, it’s nice to see a book that shares the lessons that we learn – that it takes time, it’s different and we just need you to be there and walk beside us. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about a issue that is often considered taboo.


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