What you'll find inside this book

  • You are not alone.

    In the United States, grief remains a hidden, if not taboo, subject. As a result, most of us mourn at home, cut off and alone, wondering where to turn and wishing we had support. Despite that, grief is a normal and healthy emotion, and support and community play critical roles in the healing process.

  • Grief doesn't follow a calendar.

    Despite mainstream wisdom, grief doesn't follow a clear trajectory, dissipating after two weeks or two months. Furthermore, anniversaries and holidays are some of the toughest challenges we'll face after the death of a loved one. Learn why they trigger our grief and what we can do about it.

  • The power of ritual.

    In the U.S., we no longer have clear rituals or traditions around grief. As a result, most of us don't know what to do with our grief. Throughout her journey, Tanja explores how rituals can anchor us in the grieving process, as well as help us move through it.

  • Current medical practices complicate our grief.

    The current American medical model complicates the grieving process with its insistence on fighting death at all costs. As Tanja and her family learned firsthand, the ongoing, invasive procedures often recommended by the medical community tend to come at great financial and emotional cost to the patient and their families.

  • Grief shifts our identities.

    With both parents deceased, Tanja found herself facing a deep identity shift. How would she move forward now that she was no longer the person she'd once been? And how would she raise her own children as a motherless mother? As she grappled with these questions, Tanja examined the old, ingrained family patterns that no longer served her, liberating herself in the process.

  • Compassion and empathy heal.

    As Tanja learned from the aftermath of her father's death, stuffing her feelings only prolonged her grief. After her mother's death, she wanted to learn how to grieve consciously. As she delved into research to support this decision, she learned the surprising role that brain chemistry plays in our actions and decisions, as well as why compassion and empathy are central to the healing process.

Wow! She nailed it. The way she describes being out in the world after her mother died, the anger, the waves of emotion, it all resonates. It’s a beautifully written book. But what I most appreciated was that she didn’t get stuck in her grief—she used her loss as fuel to transform her life. Even though this is a book about grief, it was an uplifting and inspiring read.
Liz Rodriguez
Liz Rodriguez
As someone who has ridden the waves of a tragic loss, I connected with this book in so many ways. It was honest and raw and uncensored... While uplifting and calming and hopeful. I felt so connected to the Author and found myself wanting to know more and more about her mother, her past, and the combined history and story of it all. It was a beautiful book and I felt more confident and understanding of my own journey at the end of it. Highly recommend.
Sarah Boyd
Sarah Boyd
The Secret Life of Grief is a raw, brutal, beautiful account of a life broken open by loss. Pajevic's navigation through the underworld of grief is a moving tale that shines a light on our darkest days.
Rachel Manzo
Rachel Manzo

Tanja shares her story

Take a Sneak Peak

In the United States, we don’t talk about grief. After the memorial or funeral, our coworkers, neighbors and friends expect us to get back to our lives, as if nothing happened. As if we haven’t been forever changed.

We no longer have a socially accepted model for grieving in the U.S., and it shows. Instead of wearing mourning black and seeing our loss reflected in our community, we mourn at home, cut off and alone. As a result, most of us have no idea how to grieve. We stuff down our feelings, pretend we’re fine. All while wondering where to turn, wishing we had support.

When my father died in 1993, the unresolved grief I felt around his death cost me nearly a decade as I struggled to make sense of what had happened and how to recover. I didn’t want to make that same mistake when my mother died in 2012. This time around, I wanted to grieve consciously.

But how?

After polling friends and acquaintances for tips—and receiving the usual “time heals all wounds” and “the first year is the hardest”—I turned to books. Surely, someone had figured this out, could show me what to do with my grief. How to survive.

What I found instead were stacks of memoirs devoted to the dying process. I’d already walked my mother to death’s door, though, and wanted help in navigating what came next.What happened after the funeral, once everyone went home?

Furthermore, I wanted reassurance that my grief was a normal and healthy emotion. That there wasn’t something wrong with me for feeling my loss so deeply. And I wanted to read about someone who’d not only survived that first year, but who’d done so with laughter, even. Grace.

The Secret Life of Grief picks up where those other memoirs leave off. It explores what grief and mourning mean in a culture that pretends death doesn’t exist, within a medical model that believes we can cheat death at all costs.

This is a book for those of us who aren’t willing to “pull it together” and act like nothing’s wrong. Who can’t—or won’t—stuff our feelings, and who recognize that grief and mourning are a normal part of life, a deep and healthy human emotion. At its heart, The Secret Life of Grief is a book for those of us who believe in the transformative power of loss. And it’s a book for those of us who believe in love.

                                    *          *          *

In the three years since my mother died, I’ve learned that there is no “right” way to do grief. There is no one answer when it comes to grief, no “one-size-fits-all.” Our grief is as unique as we are, and just as essential to our lives as our laughter, love, hugs and tears. The people we love and the loss of those people, after all, make us who we are. They form the stories we share with each other late at night or early in the morning, over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

When we can share those stories with each other, we feel less alone. A good story can help illuminate even the darkest path.

This, then, is my story. Like every other tale of love, loss and redemption, it’s messy and imperfect.

Grief is, too.

Therein lie its riches.

Tanja Pajevic

About the Author

Tanja Pajevic received her M.F.A. from Indiana University and has taught at the University of Colorado Denver, the Community College of Denver and Indiana University. She is the author of 9 Steps to Heal Your Resentment and Reboot Your Marriage, a self-help book based on her blog Reboot This Marriage: Two adults. Two kids. One year to reboot this marriage. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Huffington Post, Gawker and Scary Mommy, as well as in Crab Orchard Review, Shenandoah and other literary magazines.  

Tanja is the recipient of a Fulbright grant, Hemingway Fellowship, Kraft Fellowship and a faculty award from the University of Colorado Denver for her project “Writing as Healing.” She lives in Boulder, CO, with her family, where she leads writing workshops around life’s big transitions.

Connect with Tanja and find out more about her workshops at TanjaPajevic.com.

The Secret Life of Grief