The Secret Life of Grief: A Memoir
Winner of the Nautilus Silver Book Award
When Tanja Pajevic’s mother died, she felt alone and unsupported. She didn’t want her grief to sideline her, as it had when her father died. This time around, she wanted to grieve consciously.
In a society that no longer has clear rituals or traditions around grief, Tanja–a first-generation, Serbian-American woman–set out to create her own. As the weeks and months passed, she delved into her anger, rage and sorrow, as well as explored the complicated issue of forgiveness. Along the way, she explored the rise and fall of communal mourning in the United States, as well as its roots in the current medical model.
Tanja also examined ingrained family patterns she was ready to release–all while raising two young children and dealing with a husband facing his own challenges. Throughout, she reassessed and reconfigured her life, reconnected with her true self and found redemption and healing, as well as joy.
Written in fierce, honest prose, The Secret Life of Grief is a book for anyone who isn’t willing to “pull it together” and act like nothing’s wrong. 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.
This book is honest, resourceful, funny and sad. I absolutely loved it, have been giving away copies, and will certainly read it again myself. No matter what your grief is–the death of someone close to you, the death of a marriage, the death of a career or your own compromised health–this book will help you. It will help you think about what you’ve lost, let it sink in but also reframe it. From her wide-ranging reading/research, Pajevic shows us people we can listen to, things we can read, that will not take our grief away but will give us a new language for the things that are so painful in life. I am so impressed by her approach, by her human tone, by her ability to take her loss head on and share it with all of us along the way.
The only person who will not appreciate this book is someone who has never known loss of any kind. In other words, this book is for you. Rush out and get a copy, then make yourself some tea and read it. — CR
Tanja Pajevic’s THE SECRET LIFE OF GRIEF: A MEMOIR is an astounding account of the way a life turns upside down after loss. Hers is not a journey through grief but an incorporation of a tragic loss into her heart and soul, so that she could become wholly tender and open again to her life without her mother. She illuminates with great insight the absurdity of the time after loss when regular life goes on around you while you feel raw and broken. She offers comfort to those experiencing the conflicting flow of feelings that surround loss. Her story is one of the parallel of living as a wife, writer, and parent of young children with the shadow of her mother’s death paralleling her every step. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has lost someone dear. It’s an inspiring tale of allowing loss to cut away what is unimportant in this life and finding new ways to inhabit a life that is forever changed. –Anonymous
Pajevic’s emotional rawness and eloquent honesty throughout her mother’s illness and death are reminiscent of Brene Brown and Glennon Melton. Having experienced major losses myself, her words and longing for a healthier way to grieve resonated deeply with me. I want to share this book with everyone, in order to help change how our society handles grief! –Adam Brink
Few writers dare to delve into the depths of grieving with the courage of Tanja Pajevic in THE SECRET LIFE OF GRIEF: A MEMOIR. This is a very complex yet immensely readable book–I couldn’t put it down. With an uncommon degree of emotional intelligence, Pajevic unpacks the conflicting claims of caring for oneself while mourning the death of her mother in the midst of a conflicted but loving marriage, motherhood, a writing career, and everyday life. I found particularly interesting her exploration of the differences between grief culture in the former Yugoslavia of her ancestors and the U.S., as well as the value of hospice. THE SECRET LIFE OF GRIEF is a book I’ll return to when experiencing loss in my own life, with gratitude for Pajevic’s authentic journey from pain to transformative love. –Gail D. Storey
Grief is both really devastating and completely “regular” in that everyone experiences it. As someone who has weathered several tragedies, I felt accompanied by Ms. Pajevic due to both her compassion and her hard-won wisdom. This book is remarkable because she shows her struggle clearly, and does not sugar-coat her return to health. She learns to be present in her life and to tolerate distress, and she shows us exactly how. She is as present on these pages as she ultimately becomes in her life. Reading it, I feel galvanized to face new challenges and to persevere, knowing Ms. Pajevic has also done so in the face of great difficulty and that she has come through to the other side, as messy as that other, loving side might be for all of us. What an incredible gift. I will be giving many of my family and friends copies of this stunning and relatable book. –roxyyy