Book Review

First You Die: Learn to Live After the Death of Your Child
by Marie Levine

by Marie Levine

Marie has granted permission for me to include portions of her book in the online sharing.  I know you will be touched as I have been.  This is a wonderful resource for any bereaved parent or family.  I would highly recommend giving this book to the "newly bereaved". 
Thank you Marie for sharing your words and your compassion. 

In the earliest days of my journey, the only place I could go to vent, to cry, to rave or to wail at the heavens was my journal. In time, I felt brave enough to share my thoughts with similarly afflicted friends . . . those who had also survived this loss. From the moment I began writing publicly, these compassionate friends came forward to thank me for capturing their own thoughts and encouraging me to keep writing.

Carol Gertz and Eileen Mitzman were the first to insist that I put together a book of my columns, so that those who follow on this path can be comforted in the knowledge they are not alone.

Maddie Kasden, Genesse Gentry and Jan McNess, whose broken hearts are revealed in poetry and words that speak volumes about the "condition" of bereaved parenthood, generously agreed to let me share a few of my favorites with you.

Molly Fumia, whose book, Safe Passage, became my bible during my darkest days.

To Pat Antich, Barbara Berkall, Sandi & Harvey Schneider, Jacquie Mitchell, Nancy Wight, and all my treasured compassionate friends, who have encouraged me in
this decade-long effort.

To Dr. Barbara Chasen, an extraordinary woman who, in spite of her pain, reached out into the world to recover a lost life, and invited me to share the experience . . . two broken hearts now joined in an effort to build an unimaginable future.

To Tom Cozine, a gift from the gods, who serendipitously came into our lives, a seeming replica of our lost son. It is through Tom, a young man with a giant heart, who has shared the trials and tribulations of his young life, that we can imagine what life might have been like if Peter had lived. To Judy Block, Linda Kaye Wilson, Jane Tucker Radley, Nancy & Neil Breslau, the late Rita Angelo, Myra Frost and all my "civilian" friends who were there for me and whose caring, loving friendship and patience never wavered during my long, dark nights.

To James Van Praagh, a world-renowned psychic medium, and best-selling author, who convinced me that life does go on, and who has become my friend in the process.

And a special thank you to Dorothy Jordon, a most compassionate and generous friend who, with some help from her wonderful husband, David Ferber, spent practically her whole grieving first year editing, affirming and re-creating this collection of essays into what we hope will offer some small measure of comfort and solace to those who must also make this journey. As Dorothy says, "Working on this book helped me so much during this past year. Feelings and emotions I couldn't articulate were untangled for me, and, when I was most despairing, Marie's words gave me hope. No other book I read during this first awful year offered me that prospect- which is so integral to First You Die."

It is my hope that this book can offer the same modicum of comfort to those who must also travel this painful path, as they struggle to incorporate their grief into a life the they could never have imagined, but one that can become rich in compassion, memory and love.

"Who better to soften the wound of another,
than one who has suffered the wound himself"?
-Thomas Jefferson

On August 7th 1993, three days after landing his first "real" job, three weeks after turning 22, and three months after graduating from Syracuse University, my son Peter was killed in a violent automobile accident. He was being driven home by one of his college friends. The driver and the other two young men in the car were only slightly bruised. Peter died instantly. Peter was our only child. My husband Phil and I had no grieving sibling to attend to. In some way this provided us the "luxury" of coming to grips with the unfathomable loss of our lives unencumbered by any other's needs.

During those first drowning days, torn between the longing to simply die and the instinct to survive, I found The Compassionate Friends (TCF), an international
bereavement group (with almost 600 chapters in the United States) exclusively for parents who have lost a child, and for surviving siblings. The first TCF meeting I attended left me less than comforted. In fact, I found it so unsettling I decided not to return. I know now that some parents find immediate consolation. Not me. The meeting left me feeling even more despondent (if that was possible). However, I was encouraged to return several months later and, after that second TCF
meeting, the group became my lifeline. An irrepressible journaler, writing had become my best form of therapy. Before long I began to edit TCF's Manhattan Chapter newsletter, which eventually led to my writing a regular "column."


This is not a "How to" book nor is it a book that must be read cover to cover, a continuum that will be appreciated only in the order it is assembled. Similar to the process of grieving, this book is comprised of feelings experienced in the jumbled order of grief itself. It is my hope that readers can pick up and open the book to almost any page and hopefully find some solace in recognizing and relating to the familiar experiences all bereaved parents share.

Much has been written in recent years about the process of grieving, both by professionals and those who have experienced it. Those who find themselves in the midst of this experience can find a great deal of very helpful material designed to offer comfort and healing, and guidance.

Simply put, this is the story of one mother's experience. Of starting at what was the end of one life, and finding the beginnings of another. There's no advice within these pages. I only relate the emotions I felt as I traveled on a (too) well-worn path of pain and suffering that so many mothers have traveled before me-and that others will continue to navigate.

Grieving the loss of a child is a unique experience. It doesn't matter that it has happened to countless millions before. Nothing and no one can prepare a parent for the ensuing emotional roller coaster. Each experience is exclusive, yet so universal. It doesn't matter that every bereaved parent that has gone before has run the gamut of identical emotions.

We must each discover the nuance of every feeling by ourselves. Being alerted to what lies ahead only reassures us that we aren't losing our minds. We still must go it alone. Only in looking back as we traverse this difficult path do we find comfort in recognizing that what we feel has been felt before by all those who are ahead of us.

Throughout this book I've woven the columns I've written for our Compassionate Friends newsletter over the course of nine years, as well as some of the writings and poetry that brought me comfort on my journey. It is my hope that readers will find some consolation in these pages.

This is one mother's story. I tell it understanding that it mirrors the experience of countless bereaved parents everywhere.

Marie Levine, Manhattan TCF 

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