Interview with Erica McNeal – Author of “Good Grief”

June 11, 2012 — 14 Comments

By the time Erica McNeal was thirty-two years old, she was already a three-time cancer survivor, and had experienced the loss of five children. We became friends last year, and I have watched as her message of hope in the midst of grief has touched the lives of thousands of people.

Erica has chosen to say, “Why not me?” and uses her cancer and child-loss to equip men and women to learn how to effectively love people who grieve. She believes that God can use even our most painful experiences to build rapport and relationships with others in order to share His incredible love.

I love Good Grief! because it is so ridiculously practical. It is a resource guide filled with tangible solutions of how to love people well through difficult times. If you or someone you love is experiencing pain or loss, please read this book. I promise it will help you. (See the end of this post for a chance to win a free copy.)

I recently interviewed Erica about her new book, and the topic of grief:

JOSH: You talk in chapter two about how we naturally ask, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”. How did you deal with that question during all your grief?

ERICA: I would literally tell people who asked that question: “Why not me? What makes me immune to cancer or child-loss?” Often times, the other person would think for a moment, nod their head, and say, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It still stinks though!” I never said it didn’t stink! However, it came down to recognizing that while God had all the power in the world to stop the suffering of Jesus, He chose not to. He allowed the suffering to happen! Therefore, I don’t expect I should be any different. This gives me the freedom to say, “Okay God, I know this doesn’t surprise You – let’s do this!”

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JOSH: In the book, you talk about how “the worst pain in life does not always come from illness, child-loss, death, or even grief itself. Many times, the greatest obstacles to overcome through difficult times are the unintended hurt caused by painful words spoken and inactions by those in our support system that care for us.” What are some of the ways we can unintentionally hurt our grieving loved ones?

ERICAGreat question. When tragedy strikes, very few people know what to say, yet still feel compelled to say something! This is often when we stick our foot in our mouths, succumb to a Christian cliche, or an empty platitude. We tell people to get over “it”, instead of helping people move forward by talking through “it”. We take Bible verses out of context in hopes of encouraging our loved ones; yet, unfortunately, often times we leave them feeling discouraged. And, sometimes when we don’t know what to do or say, many times, we do nothing. This inaction can be very painful because it makes the hurting person believe we don’t care, often times, the exact opposite of what we are feeling. Finding ways to prevent unintended hurt is the heart of Good Grief!; by giving people suggestions of words to say and actions to help. 

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JOSH: On the flip side of that, what is your best advice for how we can support and encourage those we love who are going through tragedy?

ERICAIf I had to boil down just one piece of advice, I would say, “Remain consistent and loving!” Being consistent takes a great deal of investment. We need to create consistent conversations that include action on our part, and make it easy for our loved ones to say yes! For instance, “I’m making a double batch of our dinner tonight and would like to bring one over for your family to eat over the next couple of days. What time can I swing by to drop it off?” One week later, we say, “I’m taking our kids to the zoo tomorrow. Can I pick yours up on the way to give you a day to yourself?” These are actions that build up trust, and open up doors for people to talk about what they are feeling, because you are showing you care. Personally, I write notes on my calendar to make contact and offer to do something tangible once a week for the first four weeks after tragedy strikes; and then taper off, while remembering days that are important to the family.

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JOSH: I love how in chapter 11, you talk about breaking down Philippians 4:8 and applying it to your situation. Tell us how you do that…

ERICAWe are often told to take our thoughts captive, but rarely do we know what that means or how to do it. I began “breaking it down” when I was first diagnosed with cancer at 22 years old; when every possible overwhelming thought had the potential of causing my life to downward spiral. This process worked so well, I continue this exercise today. I learned that if you do not replace a negative thought with a positive thought, you may be taking your thoughts captive, but they are simply rotting in the jail cell of your brain; waiting for a jail break. Therefore, I replace my negative thoughts, anxiety, and stress, through Phil 4:8. I put my challenging thoughts in jail, change my perspective of my circumstances, and then release the prisoner. For instance, when I am struggling with accepting the lies of Satan, I will ask myself, “What is true about this situation?” – and then I will write down everything that is “true”. I will go on, “What is right about these circumstances?” – and again, I write down what is “right”. I continue to go through the entire verse and then, I think of these things!

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JOSH: If you could say only one thing to those reading this who are going through tragedy right now, what would it be?

ERICAYou are not alone!

[stextbox id="info"]To read more of Erica’s story, you can check out her website. You can also follow her on Twitter or Facebook. You can purchase your own copy of Good Grief! here (and if you buy it this week, you will get a ton of free extras!).[/stextbox]

Erica is graciously allowing me to give away an eBook copy of Good Grief! to my readers. To be eligible, simply leave a comment on this post about why you would like to read Good Grief!. The winner will be contacted by email.
  • Ronnieebarnard

    Great interview!! Sounds like a very needed pratical book to read.

    • http://joshuamhood.com Josh Hood

      It wasn’t what I expected. I expected a good book about grief and suffering, but it was just so clear, practical, and instructional. It’s not just a book of stories; it’s full of practical, simple instructions on how to help grieving people.

  • Shawn Tully

    Josh even though it has been a little over a year since my grandmother has passed away there is still a very big void and lots of hurt. I lost my dad when I was 10 that was 32 years agao lost my grandfather that I lived with since i was 5 ( my grandmother raised me) and have had other lose through the years. I even still miss my father after all these yearts. I hope this book will really help people put thier hurt ion the right perspective and noy turn bitter toward God for thier lose.

    Shawn Tullt

    • http://joshuamhood.com Josh Hood

      Wow, great comment, Shawn.
      While I have lost both my grandfathers, I have never experienced pain like you and Erica have been through.
      What do you think is the key for people to not get bitter against God in the midst of their pain?

  • EricBG623

    It’s too easy to keep someone else’s messy situations at arms length, because we don’t want to get messy ourselves.  But, when looking at the example of Jesus, we can see with gratitude that He didn’t do that with our messy selves.  He jumped right in!  And He calls us to do the same!  It sounds like Good Grief offers some practical encouragement for someone willing to run into the middle of someone else’s mess and walk alongside them while Lord does what only He can do!  I’m sure this is a great resource for anyone who is in a position of leadership.

    • http://joshuamhood.com Josh Hood

      So true, Eric.
      I like to help people…when it makes me look good. I like to help people…when it gives me warm and fuzzy feelings.
      But when it requires “getting messy”…when it requires pain and discomfort… my flesh screams, “No!”.

      A quote I ran across recently applies to this: “If it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.”

  • Steedclan88

    I think it is important for people to understand how to properly deal with those who are greiving or hurting,Otherwise you can cause more harm than good!!! Saying things such as oh,they are so much better off or Praise God they are no longer suffering,You will make it,time heals all wounds,You’ll be together again soon “in Heaven”..Those are not the best choice of words to someone who has experienced loss..Sometimes “Words” are not neccesary at all just a simple Hug or I love you will suffice..So I am glad to hear that someone who had experienced grief on a variety of levels has written a practical book on the what to,not too’s of grief and pain..I would love to pick up a copy,Where can it be purchased?

    • http://joshuamhood.com Josh Hood

      So true! And that’s exactly what the book’s about.
      Of all the people who comment on this post, one winner will be randomly chosen on Wednesday and given a free copy of the book (they will be notified by email).
      If you don’t win, you can buy the book on Amazon: http://amzn.to/JJnxwr Thanks!

  • Shawn Tully

    Josh the key to not getting bitter towrd God is to give the pain and hurt and frustration to him. We have to nail these things to the cross. We must trust that God knows what he is doing and have faith in God. This comes only from hearing his word and much honest praying and fasting. God heals all things when we let Him. We can not be a hostage to our preconcieved ideals on hoe God should work things out.

    • http://joshuamhood.com Josh Hood

      Amen to that!

  • Kathi White

    I would like to read this book b/c in a period of ten years I experienced a great deal of loss in my life with the deaths of my mom, oldest brother and my father. I feel this book will be a great healing read for me to cope. I also know the author as she used to live close by to me;)

    • http://joshuamhood.com Josh Hood

      It sounds like you have been through a lot the last few years, Kathi. I am very sorry for your losses. :(
      I know this book would be a great encouragement to you!

  • Anna

    This sounds like a wonderful and practical book!  I would love to read it because I know at some point and time we all face grief  of one form or another.  Also it would help to understand and know how to help those facing it right now.

    • http://joshuamhood.com Josh Hood

      I could not have said it better myself. :)