Pain is the agent of change. Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving

The Hon. Julia Aline Samuel MBE is a British psychotherapist and paediatric counsellor and the daughter of James Guinness and his wife Pauline. Julia Samuel is also Godmother to Prince George and one-time close friend of Diana, Princess of Wales. She was awarded an MBE in the 2015 New Year’s Honours list for services to the bereaved.

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There are countless books on the market written about this sensitive topic but there is not one that is so accessible, plain talking and soothing. Julia believes it is important to acknowledge that death is an inevitable part of life, and yet we still find it difficult to talk about. Grief Works is Julia Samuels’s first book. Her second book This Too Shall Pass: Stories of Change, Crisis and Hopeful Beginnings is out in March 2020. I hope you enjoy her interview it truly helped me to normalise the complicated issue around discussing death and grief.

Tell us more about your work
The more I have learned the more I have realised what I don’t know both practically and psychologically.  I wanted to know what more could I offer, what more could we do psychologically. I wanted to know how come this person was behaving like that, and how come I said one thing, but held back what I really wanted to say? How could I find a way of saying it all? How to make sense of their response? What was going on for them and how to broaden the lines of understanding to feel connected with this person?

“Whether it’s the Duke of Cambridge grieving the loss of his mother or it’s one of her NHS patients, feelings don’t change because of background.”

In your opinion why are we still finding it difficult to talk about grief?
Our culture is imbued with the belief that we can fix just about anything and make it better; or, if we can’t, that it’s possible to trash what you have and start all over again. Grief is the antithesis of this belief: it shuns avoidance and demands endurance, and forces us to accept that there are some things in this world that simply cannot be fixed.

Death is the great exposer: it forces hidden fault lines and submerged secrets into the open and is still greatly misinterpreted. 

What have you learnt from your clients?
I’m inspired by the extraordinary people I meet, some come to me seeking support, others want me to help raise awareness of the needs of bereaved families.

The minute you’re scared by a person’s pain, you get paranoid. I’m not wanted, not needed. I’m going to take myself out of the equation.

What is the biggest takeaway from the book?
When we are grieving it affects every part of our life and our sense of identity, which can mean even getting through a day can seem overwhelming.
8 Pillars of Strength: These Pillars of Strength are a system of support, that can help you every single day. It involves work to build the pillars – they don’t just appear out of the blue – together with the commitment to keep working on them. The more regular and habitual that becomes the more effective they can be. I am confident they will help you feel physically and emotionally stronger. We are all unique, so you will need to shape these guidelines to work for you. They are based on well researched evidence, and work as an organic whole, and are therefore more effective if we work on them all, not just one or two. This may seem impossible in the first weeks and months of grief for some, but don’t give up on the idea, come back to them later.

“Grief has no rules. How long it takes one person will vary to the next. What I know for sure is we all need support and the type of support, help and encouragement.”

What’s the next challenge for us regarding grief management?
Death is the last taboo in our society, and grief is still profoundly misunderstood. So many of us feel awkward and uncertain around death, and shy away from talking honestly with family and friends. That ignorance means people don’t understand themselves and are often misunderstood, which aggravates their suffering. It’s the way we talk about life and death that needs to be revolutionised. Death is the great exposer: it forces hidden fault lines and submerged secrets into the open and is still greatly misinterpreted. 

People need people. Love heals loss. Be available; be there. Say what you need to say.’

Reference:To find out more about Julia’s work and the 8 pillars please visit

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