Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Learning To Laugh When You Feel Like Crying by Allen Klein A Book Review

Outside my office window, the Ontario winter wind blows and sends the snow every which way. As I stare out, I realize I feel as deregulated as the wind. I’m not well again. I tell myself it is appropriate to feel this way; it has after all been a long week. But though I take a small amount of comfort from this internal reassurance, I know the tears that I shed as I blankly gaze at the wonder of nature, are more than simply the result of exhaustion. I am dealing with the feathery touch of a subtle grief. My grief is not the punch in the gut, sudden shock grief of a sudden lose. Mine is the grief that comes from watching a loved one nearing the end of their journey here on earth. I have faced this situation now for over a year; and I am fragile. So it was timely that I had the opportunity to review Allen Klein’s EBook; Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying: Embracing Life After Loss, since I am presently working my way through a grieving process.
Mr Klein has experience dealing with grief. He is the former director of the Life-Death Transition Institute in San Francisco. Likewise, Mr. Klein has written over a dozen books dealing with the issues of grief and its effects on those who are living through it. He is highly acclaimed in both public speaking and Therapeutic Humour. Finally, Mr Klein has been a hospice volunteer and has struggled through the grieving process himself. In fact the book evolved from his own lived experience through the death of his wife. With this knowledge, I felt confident that Mr Klein would have something to offer me in my own time of grief, and I was not disappointed.
I love quotes, especially when my mind is racing and I find it hard to think straight. I find that when I am dealing with shock, my mind does race and I cannot focus on long verbatim or academic rhetoric. Therefore, I was glad to see that Learning to Laugh when You Feel like Crying: Embracing Life after Loss used quotes as its navigational tool.
Each chapter in Mr Klein’s EBook is introduced through a quote; such as, the chapter Triumphing Over Tragedy’s.  This chapter begins with a quote by the American poet, John Vance Cheney, “The soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears.” These short poignant sayings allow the reader to form their own first impressions, and then the author backs up the quote with the point he would like the reader to realize. The result is simple, direct, and easy for the grieving reader to comprehend.
 Some of the points made by Mr. Klein in Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying: ... are familiar to me since I have past experience with grief. These familiar points are fundamental to the process we all go through as we grieve a loss. I can remember when I first heard the ideas; such as, others ask that fateful question ‘why me?’, or the realization that endings are actually new beginnings, and finally the importance of forgiving yourself and others. When I first heard these fundamental points I took comfort in the knowledge that someone else understood me. I felt connected to someone else and therefore not alone in my grief.
I think that connection between people is easily forgotten when anyone is dealing with a powerful emotion. They feel like no one has been through this, that they are alone and different. The result from this notion is a deeply rooted feeling of isolation and loneliness. I suppose it is true that no one wants to be miserable in isolation; they need company to remind them that there is more outside of themselves. The points that Mr. Klein discusses in the EBook allow that connection to be made. Then Mr. Klein turns to deeper lines of reasoning.
Personally, there was one particular point which Mr. Klein made which left a lasting impression on me. He ascertained, “Your loss is a milestone that has made a major impact on your life. It has ended a world you once knew. But, at the same time, it has created new opportunities and an opening for the beginning of a yet to be discovered world.” I have come to trust hindsight and I believe that this statement addresses just that. Though we cry at present, though we are angry and confused, though are heart breaks so; if we can just hang on, in time we will see how a new world began when the old loved world--which revolved around the one we loved--passed with them. This enlightenment cannot be forced, it has its own agenda and we must wait patiently. Mr. Klein encourages us to trust that we will see the result; and while we grapple with the wait, possibly turn to humour to lighten our burden.
Be clear, Learning to Laugh When You Feel like Crying is not intended to be a heavy cerebral work. It is written in an easy style perfect for anyone, even for someone who is struggling with concentration due to their heart ache. It teaches you about what grief is and speaks to your heart, to your emotions, to encourage a shift in your attitude even if it is only for the briefest of moments.
Do not be mistaken, Mr. Klein is not telling the reader that grief is something we must avoid at any cost. That we should rush through the emotional roller coaster that seems to be a part of the process. Rather, he is asking us to use humour as a way to realize even a few seconds of relief from the depths of grief. To allow ourselves a brief break from the emotions that can overwhelm us. The purpose is multifaceted. Firstly, to find space to learn from what we are going through. Secondly, is to feel a bit of recovery from our pain. Thirdly, humour boasts hope, and hope is important.
I do have one concern and it is not with the author or the content of Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying: Embracing Life After Loss, it is with the editor. I am not a grammatical genius by any standard, but when I read an item that has been professionally edited, I expect a piece without grammatical errors. This is not the case with Learning to Laugh When You Feel Like Crying: ...; and I found it a distraction. With that said, I would recommend this book to anyone who is struggling through the grieving process. 

Monday, 2 January 2012


Alice was crying again. It was only 6 am and she was once more sitting on the floor of her washroom crying tears of heart break. Alice was a dark-haired, chubby, pipsqueak of a women. She therefore could sit quite comfortably on the 2ft, by 2ft square which made up the floor of her bedroom washroom. Alice had been crying like this, curled down on the floor gazing up and out the bathroom window, for days now and she could not for her own life put her finger on why. She just did.
This morning was much like the previous mornings. She got up at 5:30 am, did her shower in the downstairs bathroom (so she would not wake-up her husband Jack), came back upstairs, made coffee, said good morning to Jack as he wondered past her on his way to his den, then went into her bedroom and with in seconds she would like a zombie walk towards her tiny bedroom washroom, close the door and then collapse into tears.
         Alice had always shed her tears in the privacy of a washroom. What an unusual room this washroom was. Five years ago when Jack and Alice had been house hunting for their starter home, they had looked at this house. Jack felt it was in a good neighborhood, with a great back yard, and of course the price was right. Alice felt the bedrooms were too small and that the bathrooms were weird. The house had three. One in the basement with only a toilet, a sink, and shower; then there were two on the first level of the house, a large bathroom located off the central bedroom hall, and then this tiny water-closeting, washroom, with only a sink and a toilet, which was connected to the principle bedroom.
Jack had insisted, “When the time is right and we have enough money saved we will fix things up more to your liking Alice. But the price of this house is good; we should just purchase it right away.” And so they did.
Alice had come to love her little washroom; it was her hiding place, her crying place, a place to hear herself think.
         As Alice sat on the floor and shed her morning tears she looked out the washroom window. The morning sky was so blue and lovely. She could see the many branches of the trees which canopied the house’s back yard. What Alice could not see as she gazed through her tears was why. Why did she marry Jack? Why did she go to work every day? Why did her gut feel so awful? Why did her limbs ache? Why could she not read a book anymore? Why could she not eat anymore? Why? Why? Why?
         Alice sat on the floor of her little washroom and wondered these things for the umpteenth time: still no answer came to her; just heart broken tears. Then she heard the familiar thump of Jack’s feet as he walked around the kitchen, and she knew with in minutes he would be in the bedroom getting ready for his work day. So Alice got up, ran the cold water, and splashed it on her face.  
Jack came in the bedroom. He was talking to her now, but Alice had stopped understanding what Jack said a long time ago. What she had discovered about her husband is that he was always happy when she said yes to him and always angry when she said no. Alice had decided she would no longer say no, she did not like it when Jack was mad.
         That morning, Jack noticed nothing unusual about Alice when she came into their bedroom from the washroom. To him she looked as she always had. Her hair was already up in its bun, and her face was nicely washed. Alice was not a raving beauty but that was the way Jack liked it. She wore no make-up and her clothes were simple and not flashy, again that suited Jack just fine.
Jack was ready for work first, “Alice I feel like a good beef stew tonight for dinner.”
As Jack left the bedroom Alice smiled and answered “O.K.”
Alice was alone again in her bedroom, but she knew she could not go to the washroom now for she had to get to work. 
         For many years Alice had been a receptionist at a social service organization. She never did like the job. She meant with so many strangers all day long. It frightened her. What were they thinking? Were they able to hear her thoughts? Her thoughts were very loud you know. Some of the strangers at her work looked at her as if they could hear her thoughts. But she would not let on that she knew this, it was just better not to. Her boss did not like it when she did, so she had decided it was best to do just what her boss wanted her to do. To ask the strangers who they wanted to see and then to tell them to have a seat as they waited. Sometimes though; the strangers that Alice knew could hear her thoughts, would sit and stare right at her. She did not like this and wished her boss would tell them to stop.
         So upon first glance, it was just another work day for Alice; eight hours of sitting at the front desk, trying hard to listen to her boss, her co-workers, and the many strangers. But Alice would not make it into work that day. And she would not call into work to give reason for her absence. This day was different then the rest. Alice just knew she would never go back there again. It was not that she was angry; it was just that she was done. So instead of going to work, Alice went to the park. She found a bench and sat down. There was where she spent her work day. No one bothered her. No strangers listening to her thoughts. No boss getting upset with her. No co-workers telling her all the things they thought she should know. She sat, watched the birds flutter around the pine trees. There seemed to be hundreds of trees in this park, Alice decided she needed to know for sure. She spent that day counting the trees. There were 105 trees exactly in the park where Alice sat on the bench for her work day.
         At dinner time Alice was back in her weird house, Alice undressed in her room. She hung up her work cloths and put on her house clothes. Jack said he wanted beef for dinner tonight. Alice began to brown the beef chunks. She hated the smell of browning meet, always had. She stood still and watched the cubes of meet brown, and began to see the face of the cow who supplied this meet for Jack’s dinner. There it was, in the middle of the pan, mooing at her. She understood what it wanted. She turned off the heat so then the cow would be able to reclaim the chunks that had been taken from her body. Alice did as the cow told her to. Jack needed supper. Alice would suggest he eat some cereal. It was filling and nutritious.
         Jack and Alice spent that night fighting. He wanted beef stew for supper not cereal. But Alice knew the cow had already reclaimed her cubes. She was whole again and Jack would just have to get over his disappointment. Besides, he should not eat cows, or pigs, or fish, or lambs, or birds, or dogs, or cats, or rats. He should be glad that Alice saved him from all those dead animals that would come back and ask for their flesh to be returned. Jack should take her advice and eat cereal. But he would not. He left the house angry, and went to grab a burger. Alice went to bed and as she lay in her bed she realized she had not yet cried. She always cried after work, after cleaning up supper, and before she crawled into bed. But tonight, she simply went to sleep.

©Holly Ballantyne  December, 2011