On Reading "Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief"
An essential book of healing
This month’s book recommendation is a little different, a little more personal. I wanted to focus on one book that appeared at the time I think I needed it most. I recently returned to my office for the first time in two years. I keep books everywhere, so unsurprisingly there was a bunch waiting for me when I came back. Sitting on my desk, the first book at the top of the pile was Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief. I immediately put it in my tote bag to bring home.
Grief is a complex feeling. As this book puts it, the experience is always unique because every relationship is unique. At first, this book was one I added to my shelf as something interesting; I’m always curious to learn about the mental illnesses that I’ve personally struggled with. And then I experienced a loss recently, and suddenly this book was filled with all the words I needed to hear. It’s been helpful to sort out the emotions spiraling in my head this past month.
What this book does is take a closer look at the grieving process, and how anxiety is overlooked in that process. Sure we have the five stages of grief, but anxiety isn’t one of them. Author Claire Bidwell Smith gently takes your hand from page one and guides you through the ways anxiety creeps into the grieving process. Even better, she provides multiple, tangible methods to help cope in a healthy way.
From starting or maintaining routines, to asking yourself any of the thoughtful questions the book poses, to writing, The Missing Stage of Grief has so much to bookmark and keep in mind for all the moments of grief you experience. The chapter about valuing writing was the one that prompted this sort of a book review. There were suggestions of writing to a loved one, or to just lay out all the feelings you’re feeling. Writing has always been fun and therapeutic for me, and already writing about it has been a great release.
And it works. Even if you’re not a writer, it can be a relief to write about something like grief. I read this book about a month after my friend passed away from illness. It was a late stage cancer diagnosis and it felt like it moved too fast before I was able to even wrap my head around it. Despite the friends and family that have checked in on me, I haven't been able to properly say how I’ve been feeling. I fall into the trap of anxious, intrusive thoughts: “Other people have it worse for you, you don’t have a right to be so upset”, “You’re always happy, people think you’re annoying when you’re sad and anxious”, or “you need to make sure everyone else is ok first, then you can feel bad”. The whole caring for other people first, the fear of showing cracks in my usual personality, all of these are things I’ve struggled with in therapy for years.
Usually, the hole isn't too big for me to climb out of, but grief makes that climb steeper. It felt like I had to be ok and keep moving, for my job, to not make the people around me to feel awkward, and to support others I knew who were coping as well. It's a blessing that reading is such a great distraction for me, because it's why I picked up this book so readily. The Missing Stage of Grief hasn’t steered me wrong in the short time I’ve been using it to help cope.
Even the act of writing all that above, is cathartic. She even provides prompts to help get you started and to get your emotions out. I had a hard time with it at first, but once I started, I just let it go, and it felt like applying aloe to a burn.
That’s only one of the countless gestures described by Smith in her book to help you cope with grief and anxiety. What this book does really well is pinpoint multiple places where you can get stuck struggling with grief and then helps you navigate those tricky spaces. There’s questions to ask yourself about how you’re feeling physically and emotionally, and they’re sprinkled throughout the book. Wherever you are in your grieving process, there is a section here for you.
And those questions are important. There were many things in the past month that I didn’t realize I was doing or not doing, the ways my health was suffering. I’ve been tired, stressed, immediately cutting off any thoughts that make me tear up. That first week, the panic attacks were bad, and focusing properly on anything was next to impossible. While time has been helping me heal and put my thoughts in order, this book got me to take a step back and not bottle things up. And it’s a feeling I’m sure isn’t exclusive to me. Grief and anxiety are both mountains to deal with, but the words in The Missing Stage of Grief know that and they’re here to catch you, lift the weight, whatever metaphor works best for you.
What I think makes this a remarkable, helpful book is Smith’s tone and wording. Everything was always so calm and kind. Her expertise, both personal and professional, really shines through. It felt like an old friend comforting and supporting you in your time of need. That tone is essential if you’re to take the advice and methods in this book to heart; it made me feel confident in confronting some of the feelings and situations I’ve been avoiding to spare myself pain. She approaches everything with such encouragement, it made me feel safe to be vulnerable.
A great thing that I loved was at the end of every chapter, Smith had an anxiety check-in. It was a nice stopping point to say, “You’ve just read about this aspect of grief, take a moment to assess yourself and see how you’re doing”. I found I felt better as the book went on. The later chapters also include methods of calming anxiety which is an extraordinary help.
And by the end of the book, obviously I don’t feel “magically cured” or anything, of course not. That's not the point. But I feel lighter, like I understand more of the healing to be done. It’s a personal journey, one that will be different for everyone who reads Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief, but it’s one that, should you choose to open the pages, will reward you with ways to cope. Smith says it better than me: “Honor your story of loss. It is one that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. Let it shape and mold you. Look for the beauty contained within that story—the cherished relationship and love you shared with someone important.”
While writing this, I remembered these little book reviews of mine are something my friend said he enjoyed, and that he liked that I recommended books. In fact, reading was the last thing he and I talked about. I can’t think of a better way to honor that relationship than to share a book that helps me remember those positive memories with just a bit of extra brightness.
And as always, pleasant reading. Check out June's book recs here.
About the author
Hi all!! My name is Sammi and I'm a pop culture writer, with a dash of mindfulness here and there. Check out my fun takes on things like books, anime, and more!!
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Original narrative & well developed characters