Ep. 9 – Is There No Other Way? Exploring Growth Through Grief
This life isn’t just about GOING through trials—it’s about GROWING through them. This inspiring book will teach you how to do just that.
- Is There No Other Way? is a religious book by Emily Adams published in 2020
- Overview of the Book: “Exploring Growth Through Grief”
- The author has firsthand experience with grief (having suffered the death of one of her identical twin boys), and she also interviewed about 50 other women about their trials
- How the Atonement Can Help You Grieve
- “There is nothing you have experienced . . . that [Jesus Christ] does not also know and recognize.”
- “He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt, and in our grief.”
- Don’t Feel Ashamed for Your Sorrow
- The Savior, who was perfect, is “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” which is evidence that there is nothing wrong with sorrow and grief
- “Does perfection mean not letting words and experiences hurt us? Or does it just mean not permitting them to dull our faith and distance us from our Heavenly Father?”
- Don’t Compare Grief
- “Someone who drowns in 6 feet of water is just as dead as someone who drowns in 20 feet of water. Stop comparing traumas, and stop belittling yours or anyone else’s traumas because it wasn’t ‘as bad’ as someone else’s. This isn’t a competition, we all deserve support and recovery.”
- Don’t use the phrase “at least” when trying to comfort someone (“At least your baby died before you could make memories with him since that would be so much harder”)
- Instead, just say, “I’m sorry. I love you. What can I do for you?”
- Write a Headline for Your Hardship
- “Woman’s Husband Has Terrible Accident that Ruins Their Life” vs. “Young Couple Remains Joyful Despite Husband’s Terrible Accident”
- Whatever your headline is (how you feel about the trial), you begin to look for evidence to support it, so try to choose an optimistic one instead of a pessimistic one
- Talk About It
- Never underestimate the healing power of talking and the priceless gift of listening
- Grow Through Grief
- A progression from Victim to Survivor to Contributor
- A victim asks “Why me?” A survivor asks “Now what?” And a contributor confidently states “Now me,” as in now it’s my turn to help others.
- 1. Think about a trial that you’re going through right now and choose a headline that represents how you’d like to handle it.
- 2. Imagine yourself in five years telling someone about your current trial, what you learned from it, and what helped you get through it.
Jesus Christ was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). And in this life, we too become acquainted with grief through what sometimes seems like an endless torrent of trials. But thankfully, there are books like this one that can help make your load a little lighter. From divorce, death, and drug addiction to miscarriage and mental illness, this book covers it all, and I hope it’ll help you as much as it’s helped me.
I’m Liz Kazandzhy, and you’re listening to the cozy little podcast “Latter-day Saint Book Nook,” where we talk about books from a gospel perspective. Whether fiction or nonfiction, religious or not, great books are like wells of wisdom just waiting to be drawn from, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. So if you love books, and you love the gospel of Jesus Christ, you’re in the right place. Come and learn from the best books to help you live your best life!
Hey everybody. Hope you’re doing well. This episode is going to be a little different than previous episodes, for a couple of reasons. First, this is a religious book, so instead of pulling gospel insights from secular books like I’ve done before, I’ll just be sharing insights that are already spelled out pretty well in the book. And second, unlike past episodes about well-known books like The Little Prince, this is a fairly new book from a less-known author. But that being said, it’s a really good book, so I wanted to talk about it. And throughout this podcast, I’ll continue to review books that are not as well known because there are some awesome gems out there that not a lot of people know about, and I want to kind of bring them more into the light, I guess you could say.
Overview of the Book: “Exploring Growth Through Grief”
Alright, so let’s get into it. Today’s book is by Emily Adams, and it’s called Is There No Other Way? Exploring Growth Through Grief. And as far as subtitles go, this one is spot on. The book is certainly about grief, including the author’s experience of losing one of her identical twin boys named Aiden. It talks a lot about the personal growth that can happen as people move through the process of grief. And the author definitely explores these concepts by not just analyzing her own grieving process, but also by interviewing about 50 other women about their hardships. They had trials such as … the death of two premature babies, infertility, cancer, son with drug addiction, husband with pornography addiction, anxiety, OCD, childhood abuse, miscarriage, death of husband to cancer, death of daughter to a car accident, blended family, and marital infidelity.
And by the way, it’s not like she had to scour her city in search of these stories—these were all within like a 5-mile radius, which just goes to show how much suffering there really is, not just in the world as a whole but in your very own neighborhood.
So, as the author started doing these interviews, she developed four goals for the book, which, in my opinion, she totally accomplished. So I just wanted to share those with you so you can get a feel for what this book has to offer. So here are the goals:
1. To help those who pick up this book know that they are not alone.
2. To encourage less judgment in our families, congregations, communities, and world.
3. To echo the call originating from our Savior to bear one another’s burdens.
4. To realize we can shape our greatest pains into our greatest opportunities for contribution.
Obviously I can’t talk about everything in the book—you’ll just have to read it yourself—but I do want to talk about some of my favorite parts. So first, let’s talk about the Atonement.
How the Atonement Can Help You Grieve
The Atonement of Jesus Christ is an ongoing theme throughout the book, which is so appropriate I think. Because, as we know, the Atonement is not just about cleansing us from sin, it’s about strengthening us in our sorrows. And the author quotes a passage from a general Relief Society counselor named Chieko N. Okazaki that was just so powerful that I wanted to read it to you verbatim. So here’s the quote:
We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It is our faith that He experienced everything—absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implication of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually.
That means He knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer—how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism. There is nothing you have experienced . . . that He does not also know and recognize.
He understands about rape and infertility and abortion. His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” He understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down Syndrome. He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He’s been there. He’s been lower than all that.
He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt, and in our grief.
What a powerful quote. There is just so much power in knowing that God knows what you’re going through, and He cares.
Don’t Feel Ashamed for Your Sorrow
Another theme in the book was about sometimes feeling guilty about how you grieve. For example, Emily felt bad being upset about losing her son when she knew about the plan of salvation. She said:
I wanted to pray, but in my exhausted state I did not even know what to pray for or how to begin. I wanted answers, yet I knew I already had so many of them. I lingered in a fragile mental state of devastation and peace, seemingly impossible companions. I reminded myself that I knew the plan of salvation was true, that my little family was eternal, and I would see my Aiden again. Yet, the tears continued to course. I scolded myself internally. Didn’t I know that God had a plan? That everything works together for our good?
And here’s another experience she shared about feeling ashamed for her lack of gratitude when she was going through a period of infertility:
I remember sitting in church one Sunday feeling weighed down with sadness that yet another month had passed and I still wasn’t pregnant. I had always hoped to have my children about two years apart, but it had been well over a year of trying, and I stressed that perhaps our oldest daughter may be our one and only.
As I quietly lamented internally, the quintessential “attitude of gratitude” hymn, “Count Your Blessings,” was loudly pealed out by the enthusiastic organist. I looked around at all the happy faces smiling as they sang, “Count your blessings name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”
Now, instead of just feeling melancholy over our temporary infertility, I felt a coat of guilt settle over me like a dirty blanket. How dare I feel sad when scores of women had not had the opportunity to have any children at all? There was my bright-eyed three-year-old, swinging her legs joyfully to the upbeat song; happy, healthy, and smart as a whip. Wasn’t I grateful for her? Didn’t I realize how richly blessed we had been? If I was more faithful, surely, I could trust in God’s timing and stop my mental whimpering.
But now listen to the wisdom she gained from that and the conclusion she eventually came to:
Right then, my still-aching heart needed to feel sorrow for the disappointment of unmet plans. … While eventually I would be able to use a sunny outlook to help with this particular worry, in that moment, I couldn’t paste on a smile and pretend that I was in a state of mind to be grateful for this circumstance. Eventually, I would be able to count my blessings, to see the Lord’s hand in my life. But today, I just needed to hurt.
Later, the author had a very powerful insight come to her that finally helped clear away that shame she had been feeling. She read Isaiah 53:3, which says that Jesus Christ is “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (v.3), and this is what she wrote about that:
I know I had read that passage many times before, but in light of my guilt over my grief, this information hit me as new and astounding. If Jesus Christ, the very Son of God, was intimately acquainted with grief and sorrow, did that mean those feelings did not equate imperfection? I believed with all my heart that Christ was without blemish, and I would never judge Him for experiencing sorrow. So why would I judge myself so harshly? I suppose I’d assumed that as a perfect being, He could let adversity roll off His back and not allow it to affect Him. But does perfection mean not letting words and experiences hurt us? Or does it just mean not permitting them to dull our faith and distance us from our Heavenly Father?
I just love that. If it was okay for the Savior of the world to grieve, it’s okay for you to grieve too. Our trials are hard enough without heaping shame on ourselves for not handling them in an ideal way. In other words, don’t add insult to injury by feeling ashamed for your sorrow. Let yourself feel whatever it is you’re feeling, and then give that all to the Lord as you seek His comfort and healing.
Well, that feels like a good stopping point. Let’s take a quick break so I can tell you about another great book, and then I’ll share some of the author’s advice about grieving.
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Alright, so the book we’re talking about, Is There No Other Way?, is packed with great advice for dealing with trials and eventually growing through them. But I like that the book isn’t structured as a self-help book—the author doesn’t say “Do this” or “Do that.” Instead, she shares all these different stories, including her own, and just points out common themes throughout them. So here are just a few things that caught my eye that I hope will also help you in your trials.
Don’t Compare Grief
So, number one: don’t compare your pain to others’ pain. There’s this quote I heard recently that says, “Someone who drowns in 6 feet of water is just as dead as someone who drowns in 20 feet of water. Stop comparing traumas, and stop belittling yours or anyone else’s traumas because it wasn’t ‘as bad’ as someone else’s. This isn’t a competition, we all deserve support and recovery.”
So this is a lesson the author learned as she was interviewing a neighbor named Arlene, a 65-year-old woman who had gone through so much in her life. She wrote:
Every imaginable trial clouded [Arlene’s] life: multiple forms of abuse and dysfunction in her childhood, the loss of both husband and child in a terrible drowning accident, the suicide of her adult son, chronic pain, and a daughter facing extreme health challenges. My pain paled in comparison. How could I possibly mourn over my seemingly small loss in front of such a battle-hardened gladiator?
“Oh, Arlene,” I blubbered, “I’m so sorry to cry in front of you. I know you have experienced far more than I could ever imagine.”
Arlene shook her head and chastised with gentle firmness, “Don’t compare grief, Emily. I have no doubt that the agony you are experiencing now is every bit as real and as challenging for you as my trials have been for me. You feel what you need to feel.”
So, this is important to remember as you’re going through trials, and it’s also extremely important to remember when you’re trying to comfort those going through trials. Listen to this paragraph about how not to mourn with those that mourn:
Quite possibly the most painful statement I heard over and over again after our loss was the dreaded words, at least. At least your baby died before you could make memories with him since that would be so much harder to deal with. At least you still have your other children. At least you knew he was struggling so his death didn’t come as a surprise. At least he wasn’t a toddler who got hit by a car like my nephew. At least you got to carry him almost full term before he died. Any time you may think to use the phrase at least to help someone else, please think again.
When in doubt, the most powerful words you can say to someone who is sorrowing are, “I’m sorry. I love you. What can I do for you?” Though these may seem too obvious or plain, there is purity in simplicity.
So again, resist the urge to compare your grief to the grief of others, both when you’re going through trials and when you’re trying to help others.
Write a Headline for Your Hardship
Alright, advice number two: imagine your story as if it were the headline for a newspaper. She gives an example of an imaginary newlywed couple who gets into a tragic accident in which the husband becomes paralyzed. The young wife could choose the headline “Woman’s Husband Has Terrible Accident that Ruins Their Life,” or she could choose something like “Young Couple Remains Joyful Despite Husband’s Terrible Accident.”
If she chooses that first title, “every point in the article will be structured to support that pessimistic lens. If the young woman believes her self-imposed title is true … her focus will be a negative orientation, and she will fixate on the awful elements this ordeal has brought into their lives.” If, on the other hand, she chooses the more positive outlook, then “she is free now to focus on the positive elements of their story. … [For example,] maybe this incident solidifies their love for one another in a way that never could have happened otherwise.”
So here’s another example from the author about one narrative she found herself stuck in after she lost her son—that she was somehow responsible for his death because she didn’t have enough faith. She knew a woman who also got pregnant with identical twins, and they were both born without any issues. And when she was talking with this woman’s family, she had this heartbreaking experience:
Shortly after the birth of the … twins, I met the aunt of this new mother and rejoiced with her in the safe arrival of the babies. She rightly celebrated their miraculous birth and said with conviction, “You know, one or both of those babies should have passed away. It was a miracle! I know that things would have turned out differently if it hadn’t been for the prayers on those babies’ behalf. I know it’s because our family fasted and had enough faith that they were saved!”
I don’t know how I excused myself from that conversation without shattering into a million pieces. All my darkest thoughts seemed to be confirmed in that moment. They had enough faith, and their babies were healed, which obviously meant that (since I knew how strong the faith of all of our support network had been), I was the weak link. Somehow, I had been found lacking. My self-composed title for our circumstance could have read at that moment, “Woman Loses Baby Because She Didn’t Have Enough Faith.”
Man, that story just broke my heart. Definitely be careful what you say around people.
But the point is, you have the power to choose your narrative. And you may not be able to write the whole story yet, because you’re still going through it, but if you can manage to at least write a positive headline, those positive moments are sure to follow.
And similar to this, whenever I’m going through something hard, I like to ask myself, “In five years from now, if I were telling someone about this current trial, what would I say? What would I share about what I learned from it and what helped me get through it?” Because that helps take you out of the moment a little bit and maybe see things with a broader, more eternal perspective. They say hindsight is 20/20, and I think even just imagining that hindsight can be helpful.
Talk About It
Alright, so the third bit of advice I wanted to mention is to talk about what you’re going through. And, on the flip side, if you want to help someone, listen to them talk about what they’re going through. This is something the author especially realized during the interviews she did. She wrote:
Time and time again, my interviewees said, “I’ve never talked with anyone about this before.” Or, as another woman exclaimed, “This is like the best free therapy I’ve ever had!” They came weighed down with burdens and left our conversation so much lighter, because of their willingness to communicate and connect. They often expressed, “It feels so liberating to actually talk about this.”
And I also loved this passage that she shared later in the book:
My sister-in-law, Catherine, has contributed greatly to my healing with nothing more than a phone call. About once every six months, she rings and says, “I just called because I wondered if you would like to talk about Aiden today.” I’ve been given many thoughtful gifts in my life, but each time she does this, I am given the most priceless gift imaginable.
Elizabeth Edwards said, “If you know someone who has lost [someone], and you’re afraid to mention them because you think you might make them sad by reminding them that they died—you’re not reminding them. They didn’t forget they died. What you’re reminding them of is that you remembered that they lived.”
So again, don’t underestimate the healing power of talking and the priceless gift of listening.
Grow through Grief
Finally, the last bit of advice is a bit more general, and that is to try to grow through your grief. And this is a huge part of the book, this progression from Victim to Survivor to Contributor. For example, as a victim, you tend to ask “Why me?” As a survivor, the main question is “Now what?” And as a contributor, your resolution is “Now me,” as in now it’s my turn to help others. And I won’t go into a lot of detail about this—you’ll have to read the book—but I wanted to share this awesome quote near the end. She writes this:
Becoming a tool in the hand of God to be wielded for good is the preeminent prize for Growth Through Grief. Though there are myriad reasons we suffer, we can choose to believe we have been assigned our mountain to show others it can be moved. We can feel a sense of triumph [when we] assess the burden that once felt so heavy upon our shoulders and realize how strong we have become because of the weight. Rather than being perpetually stuck in Victimhood asking, “Why me?”, we can stand with a sense of confident responsibility declaring instead, “Now me,” ready to reach out a hand to those who have come after us.
I just love that. It’s not just about going through trials—it’s about growing through trials. Not just trying to survive but learning to thrive.
Well, here are my two takeaway invitations for you from this episode.
First, think about a trial that you’re going through right now and choose a headline that represents how you’d like to handle it.
And second, do that other exercise that I mentioned where you imagine yourself in five years telling someone about your current trial, what you learned from it, and what helped you get through it. And bonus points if you actually write that out in like a journal entry instead of just thinking about it in your mind.
Well, friends, we’ve made it to the end of this episode. I wish you the best this coming week, especially because you’re probably going through some difficult trial of your own right now. So please keep holding on, and always remember that God is with you.
Thanks for listening to Latter-day Saint Book Nook, hosted by Liz Kazandzhy! If you enjoyed this episode and you’d like to support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. You can also visit ldsbooknook.com to stay up to date with me and the podcast. Thanks again, and I’ll talk to you next time!