The Grief Survival Handbook
A Guide from Heartache to Healing

By D. Keith Cobb M.D.

Published: November, 2009
Format: Perfect Bound Softcover(B/W)
Pages: 100
Size: 5.5x8.5

Picked as one of WORLD Magazine's Top Reads for 2011and featured on Public Radio stations in America and Ireland. Appeared as Guest Blogger for the Huffington Post, Maria, Best of You and numerous other website, magazines and newpapers across the globe as well as on the Golden Eagle Broadcasting network and Legacy TV stations across the nation. Also available from Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and Sony in print and Kindle versions.


The Grief Survival Handbook guides one through and explores the bewildering phases of grief. Denial, depression, anger, hopelessness, insomnia and fatigue are only a few of the distressing emotions and symptoms experienced by those who are struggling under the load of bereavement. Mourning is a distressing reaction to an experience which all must face at some point in life - the loss of a loved one. D. Keith Cobb, MD presents true life examples of those who have faced the dark nights of bereavement and offers a physician’s guidance in navigating toward brighter days. For mourners and their emotional support network of family and friends, this book is a must-read.

About the Author :

D. Keith Cobb, MD is an Internal Medicine physician in practice near Savannah, Georgia. He is an Adjunct Professor of Medicine for Memorial Health University, The Medical College of Georgia and Mercer University School of Medicine. His office serves as a teaching site for medical students and residents from these institutions. Dr. Cobb is a medical course writer for ArcMesa Educators as well as a contributing writer and reviewer for the medical journal Consultant and has served as a hospice medical director.


“In grief, nothing stays put.
One keeps emerging from a phase, but it always recurs.
Round and round. Everything repeats.
Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral?
But if I spiral, am I going up or down it?”
-C.S. Lewis

Of all experiences known to man, mourning is one of the most difficult to encounter. It is a time of deep despair that is difficult to place into words. Unless one has been through that dark time, it is impossible to fully imagine the array of emotions that accompany the grief. Disbelief, shock, anger, fear, hopelessness, and a profound sense of loss are unwelcome companions to the mourner.

When tragedy strikes us, these emotions change our lives dramatically. We feel as if our life has been shattered beyond repair. It becomes difficult to imagine what a normal day was like, and it seems unlikely that life will ever be normal again.

“Survivors include” is a common phrase in an obituary that conveys more than just the names of those still living. For in many instances those left to carry on with life feel as if that is just what they are doing – surviving. Yet, as impossible as it may seem, somehow we find a way to endure this complicated and dreaded era in our lives.

A crucial aspect of the healing process involves a simple yet difficult task – that of gradually accepting the pain of grief. It will be an inescapable period of time of hurt and anguish. Tolerating the unpleasantness of grief may be a more reasonable goal for us at first, but eventually acceptance can occur. Just how long this time of tolerating the pain will last is impossible to predict. It may take a few weeks or it may take years.

Tolerating and eventually accepting the pain does not necessarily make the process less traumatic and less painful. However, it does help us realize that the overwhelming emotions, the vague physical symptoms and the spiritual bleakness are all normal encounters of mourners. And it helps us incrementally move toward healing.

Simply knowing that these emotional encounters are to be expected may keep us from thinking we are going insane (a common thought among mourners) or are psychologically less stable than we once considered ourselves. Grief can be a very humbling experience. Yet with humility comes the open door of accepting the grace of friends, family and faith. All are important resources for each of us.

And as we accept the pain we can then allow ourselves the restoration that occurs as we travel this arduous journey of mourning. At some point we can enjoy good memories of loved ones without concomitant pain and tears. One day we can joyfully appreciate and recall the laughter and camaraderie without searing loneliness accompanying each recollection.

In the following pages, I hope you will find some insight into this difficult emotional road that none of us wish to travel but will. Whether we are princes or paupers, grief affects us all; it does not respect position, prosperity or poverty. It pays an uninvited visit to each of us at some point in our lives. And when it does, it brings more than overnight luggage. In fact, the emotional baggage which grief brings may be with us for years to come. Even though grief may live with us for a while, it does not have to rule the house - at least not forever.

Unless people experience grief firsthand, they cannot truly understand the crisis a grieving individual experiences. Those who have walked this difficult path are the ones to give the best advice and words of comfort. Over the years of seeing many of my patients and my own family survive grief, I am repeatedly amazed at the resilience that eventually emerges. Some individuals are just beginning their mourning while others have been experiencing it for years and are just coming to grips with the death of their loved ones. I have often asked how they cope with their tremendous losses.

Those you will read about have been generous enough to permit me to recount their grief experiences. As requested, some names and minor situational details have been changed to protect privacy. But all are true stories of deep hurt eventually followed by gradual healing. It is their desire that you will find hope and comfort in reading of their struggles and how they overcame their grief.

Most of these stories relate to the death of a family member, but some tell of the fallout from divorce or abuse. In either circumstance, the pain and disorientation is overbearing. But it is ultimately survivable.

Like you, tragedy has come to my family over the years and has taken a substantial toll. Yet I have also seen friends and family display great determination and strength and gradually come to terms with sorrow and manage to cultivate some good from life’s rubbish pile.

During medical school, physicians must learn a wide spectrum of diseases and treatments. While professors and textbooks attempt to teach about the process of death and dying, the patients, our families and even grief itself often teaches us more. Not all people heal in textbook fashion, either. After years of revisiting and re-reading many books and medical journals on the subject of grief, I suspect many well intended authors have not actually been through the burden of losing a child or spouse. Medical books often describe grief with a time frame of months, yet in the vast majority of my acquaintances, it lasts for years. And while there are common strategies to recovery, individual healing varies from person to person.

As a mourner (or as one helping a mourner) who reads these pages, may you find the strength to continue on this path of bereavement, knowing that the only way to reach its end is not by living above or around the grief, but by living through it.

It will by no means be an easy task, but you can, and indeed, you will survive this journey. Don’t expect the hurt to go away in a few weeks, or even a few months. It will take much longer. Don’t expect life to be the same as it was before your loss. Life will be different.

You will likely live with some emotional scars. These scars may outlive the initial hurt and sorrow. Much like physical scars, emotional scars can intermittently pain us throughout our lifetime.

You can expect days of relapse into deep sorrow and even into self pity. One must be patient and willing - willing to put forth a significant amount of effort -willing to tolerate the pain - willing to heal. In fact at some point, you may need to go beyond being willing and become proactive in your healing. And don’t be discouraged if every day or each week doesn’t show signs of your healing.

Sometimes emotional setbacks may seem more frequent than the progress of healing. But even on the days when recovery seems impossible, you must allow it to occur - even if only in small increments. You can be assured that, in time, healing will occur.



Hospice Foundation of America

Miscarriage Support

AARP / Grief & Loss