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Blossoms of the Lower Branches: A Hero's Journey Through Grief
by Rebecca Guevara
“Blossoms of the Lower Branches,” is one book that I was honored to be asked to read and review. Although the subject might be difficult to handle and the plot devoid of characters but filled with real life experiences, heartfelt emotions and related historical events, I felt that this book might help me and others who have lost so many in such a short time to deal with their emotions, handle their grief and try and understand how to proceed in the future. As the author related her feelings, struggles, torment and emotional upheavals after losing her brother, I realized that I felt the same plus quite angry when I lost my sister last year. Losing Marcia was devastating. Not really knowing why she died or the real cause of her massive heart attack is quite frustrating even today. When reading this well researched and quite compelling book I began to understand more deeply what an unexpected death does to a family, children and how each one of us has to draw from this experience something positive to hold on to in order to create a positive life in the future.
Heroes come along in many different walks of life. From Prince Charming, to Harry Potter, to those in myths and many people we look up to in life calling them are special heroes. The definition of a hero varies to many but most of us feel that person is someone we can aspire or look up to for guidance or who has done something special in life like caring for a loved one that is ill.
Losing her brother took more than just its normal toll on author Rebecca Guevara. It caused her to take a deeper look into herself and what she learns and shares with the reader will definitely help anyone, including myself on a journey back from sadness, grief and depression to a road with bright lights, joy and understanding in order to move forward. Blossoms of the lower branches is a really unique and profound chapter heading as she describes the beauty of those on the upper branches and the less noticeable ones hidden below the surface of the earth that are the lower branches. As most people do not understand the gifts of those lower branches but when the loss, is accepted, which is not easy, the blossoms on the lower branches give” Sustenance and growth.” Allowing the reader to enter her inner most thoughts, sharing her experiences and comparing them to those of mythical and historical heroes brings the story into a whole other dimension and allows the reader to really understand the meaning of A Hero’s Journey. Heroes are definite as mythological or legendary figures endowed with great abilities and strength. Sometimes they are considered heroes, a person admired for his/her achievements or noble qualities. Someone who shows great courage, a central figure in an event in a literary or dramatic work, someone you look up to or revere. Relating other times when many were told as she was of the loss of a loved one by a stranger and how you walk down a lonely road going through the motions and trying to understand and accept the truth. When I learned about my sister’s heart attack and what followed as a result I still couldn’t believe the end result was her death three and a half weeks later. Trying to understand what happened and caused a healthy person to have a heart attack still baffles me and often keeps me up at night. As I read and I hope you do this book you will learn the differences between grieving and mourning and learning that this is not done on any timetable or time schedule.
She begins by defining the underworld and the many ways we deal with grief and mourning as you travel the road not knowing where you will wind up. Mourning turns into grief and each one of us handles it in their own way. She describes rejoining life as putting the pieces of a puzzle together one piece at a time. I feel like she created a mosaic filled with different colored tiles that would create a picture so magnificent when finished that life would take on a new meaning and direction. Defining the underworld in mythology as Hell and in real life as mental hell. Beginning her journey with five challenges that each person who undergoes the hero’s journey will have to overcome in order to understand and move ahead. Allowing the reader to understand her grief, sharing her early life and how the part her father played in her life. In her book she discusses the life of many people in history, their understanding of grief and the mourning process.
"Blossoms of the Lower Branches" sat on my shelf for months before I was brave enough to open the spine and discover I had survived my journey and could call myself a hero. I cared for both of my parents as one suffered from Alzheimer's and the other kidney disease. I watched my parents die slowly before my eyes and then watched them take their last breaths. In two weeks, I lost both parents. I would wish this experience on no one; however, given the choice, I would walk that same path again. Guevara's book helped me realize that my experience allowed me to "...feel the size of my soul."
If you are learning how to live after the loss of a loved one, Guevara's words will give you the knowledge necessary to find a place of peace. A recovered life is more than a griever's sorrow; it is a hero's win. This is an invitation to anyone locked in grief's grip that would like a more aware and positive look of where he or she have been, where they are, and where they are going. Grieving parents, children, spouses, siblings and friends would never choose to travel grief's hero journey. It is a dark walk through a mythical underworld, living in the belly of whale, facing tasks with Odysseus, seeing life's threads with the Norse Three Fates, and walking through frightening fairy tale forests. It is a deadly serious journey. Rebecca is a fellow traveler who made many mistakes as she grieved after her brother's death. Only after many years did she piece together her story and realize its similarity with the hero's journey. She tells her story, along with the story of many other grievers, who eventually accept, prepare and make the journey before experiencing a thoughtful return to a renewed life. Grief is not easy or pretty, and not everyone succeeds in finding a way through. The hero's journey has been in the written and oral traditions of cultures across the globe from the beginning of storytelling, and they all say this: Not everyone who begins the journey is a hero. Only those who finish the lonely journey and face its sorrows become heroes.
Many people in history withstood the traumatic or sudden deaths of a loved one but none so poignant as the story of Halcyon and the death of her husband the King of Greece. Losing his brother was tragic but seeking to speak to the Oracle of Apollo would be his final journey and one that would change Halcyon’s life forever as she warned him to not go on this journey. While learning the truth behind what happened to the King the author brings to light the issues of ghosts, dreams, visions and voices and how they come into play when someone is dealing with death and grief. Guevara intertwines many other experiences involving her Jody whose phantasm she viewed above his coffin and whose image appeared to her son during a dream. Other events involving mythical heroes, Kings and family members impacted her hero’s journey and life. Throughout this chapter titled the First Challenge the author relates events from history, movies and the present helping the reader understand her journey and that of others.
Struggling for a very long time with understanding and coming to grips with her brother’s untimely death or suicide she wrote, took care of Zac and lived in world that was often separated from the one she lived in before his death. Moods changed, life was different and the as she states: Death stops the loved one’s sadness and ager, ending the relentless suffering we have been unable to help.” Now, we come to the second challenge titled Refusing the Trials where the author relates how many were chosen to tell their friends the news of the death of loved ones. Followed by the third challenge accepting the trials. From feelings of disbelief whether good or bad, looking stunned and feeling disconnected or shocked most people refuse to accept that happens when a traumatic death occurs and the healing time differs with each person. Losing six members of my family within this last year I can understand the feelings of anger, unrest, fear and even more lack of acceptance as so much of what happened to two members of my family still remains a mystery. Though the chapter related many other experiences in mythology, history and to others I found myself more interested in her journey, her life and her story. The third challenge includes accept the Trials or the death of the person and how she finally got herself back on track, using meditation and explaining that some might need outside help or support. Finally, she explains overcoming and deciding who she would or would not share her grief with and why. Many feel as the author did that they want justice for the person that is no longer here.
Each person who loses someone experiences their grief in different ways is at different stages. A circle has no beginning or end. Life starts with your birth, your joys and living life and then death. Losing someone today to me is just a painful as losing someone yesterday or ten years ago. Handling death is not easy and there are no simple solutions or answers. As the journey comes to an end for the reader in this memoir she states how each person’s journey and each hero’s life is unique to them. Those who have never lost a brother or sister regale in their joy and happiness, those of us that have remember the past, the good times, and the fun we had and we will never forget. As some reviewers honed in on the research she included in this memoir I chose to focus on Rebecca’s story, to hear her voice and her words and understand her grief and her journey. After taking care of my mom for ten years and watching her mind slowly fade, her thoughts becoming unclear and Alzheimer’s taking over, I realize that the emotional journey I took to care for her was one that I will never forget or regret. There are many heroes in this world that we look up to and want to emulate. Predicting the future, fearing the outcome and not facing it head on is the way I dealt with my sister’s death but not anymore. She was a positive person, a bright light and she brought out the sun on a cloudy day. She always said, “ I control the weather and decided when the sun comes out.” Whenever I look up at the beautiful sun filled sky I say: Thank you Marcia Joyce for smiling on me and watching over me today. Take the journey and you too might become a hero.
Fran Lewis: reviewer
I give this book: Five Beautiful Blossoms from the Lower Branches that will grow and make you stronger.