Jun 11 2012

CliffsNotes on Grief – A Book Review

CliffsNotes on Grief
Good Grief! by Erica McNeal
By Julie McAnary
Photo credit: ericamcneal.com

If you were to ask Erica McNeal why bad things happen to good people, she would likely reply with, “Why not?”

I consider myself an expert in grief. In my thirty years of life I have already buried my mother, my grandmother, my son and a few family pets to boot. Not even my own expertise prepared me for the magnitude of loss that unfolds in just the first few pages of McNeal’s Good Grief!

With no thanks to reality television or pop music, we hear the term “survivor” all the time. Erica McNeal is the true definition of a survivor. McNeal perseveres in spite of all the grief and loss she has experienced and leaves us with what I can only describe as CliffsNotes on grief.

No matter how healthy we seem, how spiritual we are, or how many times we wash our hands, bad things can and do happen to all of us. For McNeal bad things kept coming. Instead of letting these struggles define her, she turned them into a tangible resource for individuals and families dealing with cancer or illness, pregnancy and infant loss, and facing difficult trials all from a personal point-of-view.

Good Grief! recognizes that friends and family have the best intentions when it comes to consoling the bereaved, yet sometimes the wrong words fall out. McNeal shows us how to fix those wrong words in an encouraging and spiritual way.

McNeal holds your hand and gives you all the guidance you could possibly ask for. In return, she hopes you become the incredible support system your loved one desperately needs. “When you stay consistent and intentional, you create a beautiful oasis in a very dry desert for your loved one to grieve appropriately.”


Good Grief! is now available for purchase!
As a thank you, McNeal is offering 5 bonuses for anyone who chooses to purchase the book from June 11-15.
For all the information please visit her website: ericamcneal.com


Julie McAnary is the founder of Grieve Out Loud, a pregnancy and infant loss support network started in 2010 after her first child was stillborn at thirty-seven weeks.

Jun 16 2011

Good Grief!

Erica McNeal is one amazing gal! Not only is she a babyloss mama five times over, she is also a multiple cancer survivor. She found the strength to publish a reference guide entitled Good Grief! and we are honored to share her journey here. She hand-crafted a special note just for you.


I knew I had a high-risk pregnancy.

I was prepared my cancer may return while pregnant and was ready to face those potential complications. However, I was not prepared for an unknown factor that would force my body to go into labor at eighteen, twenty and ultimately twenty-two and a half weeks gestation.

I had been placed on bed rest for three months when a sub-chorionic hemorrhage threatened my pregnancy. At my eighteen-week visit, during an ultrasound, the technician could see that my cervix was already dilating. I was given medication, but went into labor two days later.

I was already 3.5 cm dilated when the hospital doctor’s saw me. I pleaded with them to do everything in their power to keep me pregnant. With a triple threat of drugs and my body nearly shaking out of the bed, my labor stopped. My contractions went away and my cervix closed. I was completely shocked – I didn’t even know that was possible!

About one and a half weeks later, I went into labor again and repeated the same procedures, breathing a sigh of relief when the labor easily stopped.

But on June 11th, 2007, my labor picked up again. A friend took me to the hospital and I told my husband not to worry about leaving work. I had every expectation the doctor’s would be able to stop my labor again.

But, I was wrong.

By the time I had gotten to labor and delivery, my cervix was gone. I was already 4 cm dilated and there was nothing my doctor’s could do. The only thing keeping my little girl from coming into the world was a pessary that my doctor’s had put into place just weeks before.

With my husband rushing to the hospital, I had to make a decision no parent should ever have to make: my life or hers?

My doctor’s feared I may have a rare condition called “placenta accreta” where the placenta burrows deeply into scar tissue. Since I had a previous c-section, and everything else had been ruled out, the fear was that my uterus could rupture after delivery when the placenta naturally pulled away from the uterine walls.

The only problem was the hospital we were at did not have the medical facilities to care for a baby as small as our daughter was. I would have to be transferred to another hospital forty-five minutes away by ambulance. There was a very real possibility I would deliver her in the ambulance and if my uterus ruptured, there would be nothing the ambulance staff could do for me. I would die!

I understood the great potential for severe medical conditions for our baby girl. I understood she would have less than a 1% chance to live and I understood she could only live for a few hours. But, against my doctor’s advice, I told him I wanted to be transferred to the other hospital. I felt like if God wanted to give this child life, who was I to take it away?

I signed the transfer paperwork and everyone walked out of the room. While my friend was in the hallway, frantically trying to reach my husband, I prayed silently.

“God, if the end result is going to be the same, whether I have her here or there, please let me have her here!”

I don’t even think I said, “Amen”, when an immediate peace came upon me. I knew I would not make it to the other hospital. As I called for the nurse, my contractions went immediately to thirty seconds and my husband came flying through the door.

Not even five minutes later, Kylie Joy was born. She was beautifully perfect, my tiny little 15 oz, 11-inch baby girl. She had little tufts of brown hair, a cute little button nose and long legs. She was absolutely gorgeous.

As we held Kylie as she died, my husband and I began to grieve all of the hopes and dreams we had for our family. The daughter we would not be able to hug and kiss whenever we wanted; the little sister to our living daughter, who was so excited about her new best friend. The little girl whose hair we would never braid, or watch play sports, or walk down the aisle on her wedding day.

Kylie lived for eighty minutes, but her short life and ultimate death rocked our worlds.

The first year grieving Kylie was the most difficult year of my life. I was a hot mess, working through the extreme guilt believing that I had killed my own daughter. Sometimes there were no words to express my emotions and I would simply cry. At times I wanted to be by myself, other times I needed so desperately for someone to sit with me in silence. I even needed to laugh occasionally! What I needed changed constantly on my unpredictable journey of grief!

Even now four years later, I struggle! I miss her. I miss what our family could have looked like. I still grieve the broken dreams, just mostly in silence now. I still get teary-eyed on her birthday, when I hear another child with the same name, and at times when my living daughter talks about how much she wants a sister.

For the first couple of years, we had no idea how our family and friends could come alongside our family. We were in the middle of a grief we had never experienced before and a pain we could not comprehend. We had no idea what we needed or what others could do to help.

At the same time, our family and friends wanted so desperately to help, but had no idea what they could do. They too experienced their own first time emotions as they grieved with our family. The problem was this caused a disparity; conflict and a lot of unmet expectations, on both sides.

While people meant well, sometimes their words came out wrong – very wrong! At times when the absolute most grace was needed, people rendered us completely speechless by their insensitive comments.

As I have supported many women through child-loss over the last four years, I have been shocked to find how common these hurtful words really are. This led to a desire to help fill the gap between people that are suffering that don’t know what they need and their loved ones that don’t know what to do.

My new eBook, Good Grief! provides tangible ideas of how to love someone going through unspeakable grief, through words and actions.

Words That Can Be Misunderstood: “At least she didn’t live long enough for you to get attached!”

Words That Encourage: “I don’t know what to say, but I love you!”

Actions That Are Intentional: Understand that the pain of grief can sometimes get in the way of grieving. Provide outlets for your loved one such as golfing or poker night for men and dinner or a spa day for women.

Until October 11th, 2011 all proceeds from the sales of Good Grief!, are going directly to families in the middle of facing their own difficult trials: A thirty-three year old woman battling a relapsed cancer and two families adopting high medical needs children.

What my family is attempting to do is less about selling an eBook and more about tangibly coming alongside these three incredible families. If I can provide some insight through times of tragedy AND help meet these financial needs, my perspective is that this is a win-win situation.

More information is also available at my website.


Thank you Erica. While we know your time is stretched so thin, you manged to write this beautiful piece. We wish you all the luck in the world mama!

Aug 5 2010

Empty Cradle, Broken Heart – Monthly Book Review

This month’s pregnancy and infant loss book review features Empty Cradle, Broken Heart.


Empty Cradle, Broken Heart by Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D. discusses the heartache of miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant loss. This book is for parents who are grieving and looking for encouragement.

This was the first book I read after the loss of my twins. Reading these stories from others made me feel that I was not alone.  It includes information about death of one or more babies and offers support. It includes quotes from others who have experienced this heartache and who understand.

Chapter One discusses the ‘D’ word, expectations, loneliness, and our losses. As I continued reading it made me realize that I was normal. As I grieved I thought I was having thoughts that no one else had. I thought I was losing my mind. This book showed me that all my thoughts were normal and even went into detail about some of the thoughts I was having.

As a mom I found reading this book helpful in the sense that it talks about physical recovery and how to take care of our bodies. Some have had a D & C while others had a Cesarean. We have postpartum visits and some need advice for breast care. There is information on how to handle these issues. If you are anything like me you may have had trouble sleeping in the early days of grief. There are tips to help with this and I found them very helpful.

I HIGHLY recommend this book to someone who has just had a loss. There is great information about making decisions after your baby’s death. We had to make so many decisions without any knowledge or help. If I had read parts of this book while I was in the hospital I would have been so grateful. It discusses burial, memorials/funerals, keepsakes, rituals, and memorializing your baby.

At the end of each chapter there is a section of points to remember. This is a good area to go back over certain points and even highlight things you want to revisit. I found this extremely helpful in helping to organize my thoughts.

There is a special chapter especially for fathers. It talks about the social expectations that are placed on fathers and their grief. This chapter touches on many key points that could be helpful in a father coping with grief and his emotions.

Not only is this book great for parents, but doctors and nurses could also benefit from reading it. Many hospitals do not give input or advice as to making decisions. This is so important as I know too many parents who have walked away from the hospital without photos or memories of their baby. Even if a friend or family member wants to read this book, let them. The more insight they have the more they will understand your grief.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is grieving, whether it is the first stages of that raw grief or later down the road. It was great for my husband and I to read after our loss and it has now been 9 months and I continue to pick it up and revisit certain chapters. You may cry as you read, but know that it is okay to cry.

– Submitted by Jill A.


*Interested in submitting your own pregnancy and infant loss book review? Please to have your review(s) published on Grieve Out Loud. Please include book title in your e-mail.

Jul 1 2010

Water Bugs & Dragonfiles – Monthly Book Review

Each month we will be posting a book review dealing with pregnancy and infant loss. This months review comes from our team member Melissa T. who has reviewed Doris Stickney’s Water Bugs & Dragonflies – Explaining Death to Young Children, Illustrations by Robyn Henderson Nordstrom.


Explaining death to a child is difficult, luckily Water Bugs & Dragonflies exists to help illustrate and educate young children about death.

This story is about a colony of water bugs that live in a pond and explains death as some of their colony disappears. The story goes on to talk about the transformation that takes place once a bug goes up into the air and out of the water. Once the bug gets out of the water he gets his wings and in the end flies off happily knowing one day he will see the rest of his bug friends when they also get their wings.

I think this story can either be told as a religious story, with the pond being earth and the air being heaven or it could be told just as it reads.

I really like this story for two reasons. After my son died I struggled to find something that reminded me of him and because of a few different things that happened while I was pregnant, I settled on dragonflies so the book reminds me of my son. The other reason is the very simple and colorful illustrations are really good for kids, there is not so much going on that they lose focus like some kids books.

My favorite part of the book is the ending with the dragonfly flying off happily into its new world of sun and air. It always makes me think of an angel.

I would recommend this book to anyone with a child who they are trying to explain about death in a way that will make sense to them or to anyone that just loves dragonflies.

Jun 3 2010

One Year Book of Hope – Monthly Book Review

Each month we will be posting a book review dealing with pregnancy and infant loss. This months review comes from our team member Melissa Joy C. who has reviewed Nancy Guthrie’s One Year Book of Hope.


I casually ordered a book online a few months ago—it was one of those times on Amazon when I wasn’t quite at the $25 mark and wanted to reach it in order to have free shipping. So anyway, I (almost haphazardly) added one more book to my cart before checking out. It was The One Year Book of Hope, by Nancy Guthrie.

I considered saving it for January, to use as a formal daily devotional for 2010; you know, since it is organized into a “one year” format. But I couldn’t wait and decided that I needed to crack open its cover. I needed to know that hope still exists—and couldn’t wait those couple of weeks. Because some moments, I just don’t see it—hope.

On one of the first pages, there is simply this quote:

Comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it.
If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end:
if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth–
only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.
~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Then I read the “Acknowledgments” page – that’s when the tears began.
I took off my glasses, wiped my cheeks with my sleeve, took a sip of tea, and turned the page.

Two sentences into the “Introduction,” I lost it again. Something about the phrase “loss that changed everything about your life in an instant” hit me hard. She gets it. Guthrie gets it. It isn’t just one thing in my life. It’s one thing in my life that suddenly, instantaneously changed everything. She goes on, and another phrase pinpointed reality for me when she mentioned “all the questions that taunt us in the midst of tears and keep us awake in the night.” I’m not sure which is worse—that scenario or the nightmares when I do sleep. But either way, she gets it.

Guthrie shares the story of losing their baby girl due to Zellweger Syndrome. She says, “Though we had shed our share of tears during her life, and while I was hopeful that those tears would lighten my load of grief after her death, it didn’t seem to work that way.”

During some of my pregnancies, I have hoped it would work that way too. But nope, it doesn’t. She goes on, “It seems to me that most losses aren’t just one loss, but a series of losses. For a while I grieved Hope [her daughter]’s death. Then I grieved her limited life. Then I grieved our loss of potential.” A series of losses.

Later in the “Introduction,” Guthrie explains something her sister-in-law shared with her. When asking how you can get through and deal with the death of such a dearly loved one, her sister-in-law said “‘Manna.’ She explained that just as the children of Israel were dependent on God to provide manna to sustain them every day while they wandered in the wilderness, I had to depend on God to give me the manna I needed every day to sustain me as I grieved my loss… Every day.

Stop crying.
Wipe those tears, Melissa, you’ve gotta keep reading.
Look at the next page.

Processing pain and embracing its lessons are daily endeavors. Every day we need a little more light to illumine our darkness.” I am not alone. Manna.


This devotional is set up into weeks—52 of them, with five devotionals in each week that go along a central theme. But while it is designed to be a year-long study, if you are like me, you won’t take that long to read it. There are days when I don’t pick it up at all, but when I do—I will read 2 or 3, or maybe a week’s worth of all 5 devotionals. It’s just that good. There are Scriptures, personal anecdotes, prayers, and meditations for each day. Each week’s theme has been a blessing to me—themes like Brokenhearted, Why?, Miracles, The Mysteries Of Heaven, Angels, Storms, Finding Purpose In Pain, Blessing, Prayer, Waiting, and Letting Go.


So that’s my new favorite book.
It’s my new lifeline, I think, really.
I am more than halfway through the book now, and glean something from its every lesson. The pages are dimpled with my tears and I think every page is full of underscores by my trusty pen.

If you are a bereaved mommy, especially a Christian one, I think I can safely say that you need to read this book. I am praying that God would use this book in our lives, that He would renew our hope, and that we would have the courage to continue reading—and living.

– Submitted by Melissa Joy C.


*Interested in submitting your own pregnancy and infant loss book review? Please to have your review(s) published on Grieve Out Loud. Please include book title in your e-mail.

May 7 2010

Life Touches Life – Monthly Book Review

Each month we will be posting a book review dealing with pregnancy and infant loss. Our first book review comes from our team member Melissa who has reviewed Lorraine Ash’s Life Touches Life: A Mother’s Story of Stillbirth and Healing.


Life Touches Life by Lorraine Ash covers loss, heartbreak and hope – dealing specifically with her stillborn daughter, but can relate to all babyloss.

This was one of the first books I read after my son Jack died. For me, these stories made me feel less alone and anything that does that is priceless. Now, five months later I still remember two distinct things about this book.

The first one is a quote said by a nun shortly after the birth of Ash’s daughter. In the book the author writes about “never being the same again.” This quote has come into my mind at various times since I first read it, almost like a personal reminder to myself. Like some sort of encouragement that I should not try to be the person I was before this happened to me. I think to me, it is one more thing I do to remind myself that I am normal and that the process that I am going through is normal.

The second thing is the first time I read this book I rushed through the last three chapters and was upset about the ending. I wanted to read that everything worked out in the end. I think at the time I needed to read things that would tell me that everything works out and that somehow I was going to be fine. The second time I read it, I read it with more compassion and took more time and realized that it does work out in the end.

I reread the book for this review and while I am sure I read the whole thing cover to cover the first time I took a bit more time to pause and think about things the second time and it has been valuable. It was like I did not read the same book before, this is the type of book that reaches out to you whether you are just first experiencing loss or it has been months, even years ago. There is something in it for many different people and if you can, read it twice.

There is a natural and spiritual side to Life Touches Life that I really connected with. Ash is religious and while I am not a religious person, I think of myself as a spiritual person. Ash described coming to grips with what happened as a force of the natural world, and that her baby will live with her in spirit.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone in any period of their grieving; it was great for me to read soon after my son died and now, five months out it was wonderful to read again.

– Submitted by Melissa


*Interested in submitting your own pregnancy and infant loss book review? Please to have your review(s) published on Grieve Out Loud. Please include book title in your e-mail.