A beautiful portrayal of the journey of grief

'If Only He’d Told Her' by Katherine Markland (2QT Limited Publishing), reviewed by Jo Wood.

This the story of Emma, who at age 32 loses her boyfriend, Mark, to cancer. In order to come to terms with his death, she must first understand the relationship between them and their love for each other. The story begins at Mark’s funeral, then moves both forwards in time over five years as Emma works through her grief, and backwards in time over the three years before then as she untangles a relationship overshadowed by terminal illness.

At the start of the story, the immediate aftermath of upset, loss and disbelief is also compounded by Emma’s doubt that Mark really loved her. Emma is unwilling to accept events, and feels only loss and abandonment. Upset and emptiness, however, are soon replaced by anger and hatred. Emma further doubts Mark for the pain and anguish he caused in her life. Their last holiday together, dominated by the burden of impending death, is remembered now through the eyes of guilt and recrimination.

As time marches on, the pain reduces, the hate reduces, replaced with feelings of incompleteness and a wish for Mark to return. Emma settles into a happy state of living with Mark still by her side. The story moves back to the happy times they had as their relationship grew, while treatment for the cancer still offered hope, and earlier still as their relationship began. Gradually Emma lets go of Mark, and can focus on her life and her future.

The book presents an almost textbook account of the grieving process that can only have been written from real experience. Through the book’s website (www.ifonlyhedtoldher.com), I learnt that the author Katherine Markland based the story on her own journey through grief, following the death of her boyfriend. Markland covers many difficult topics, including guilt, depression, fear, recrimination and, above all, poor communication.

It is a difficult read in places, with an ending both beautifully sad and uplifting. I think it has the potential to support those who are grieving, but it may also be informative to students and trainees of bereavement, psychology and counselling who are currently trying to understand these issues.

If Only He’d Told Her is a very honest and beautiful depiction of how difficult it can be to love someone. As in all relationships, there are soul-stirring moments of intimacy coupled with moments of pure hostility and cruelty. Ultimately the two people involved are simply too young, and the relationship between them is not well enough established to deal with the pressure that terminal illness can impose.

- Reviewed by Jo Wood, Bereavement Counsellor, Outlook Bereavement Support

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