In his exceptionally thought-provoking and moving memoir, neurosurgeon Joseph D. Stern explores how personal loss influences the way physicians relate to patients and their families.
How does a doctor who deals with the death of patients on a regular basis confront his own loss when his beloved sister is living out her last days?
Despite a career as a neurosurgeon, Joseph Stern learned more about the nature of illness and death after his younger sister, Victoria, developed leukemia than his formal medical training ever taught him. Her death broke down the self-protective barriers he had built to perform his job and led to a profound shift in his approach to medicine.
During the year of his sister’s illness, Dr. Stern developed a greater awareness of the needs of patients and their families; of the burdens they carry; of the importance of connection, communication, and gratitude; and of what it means to ask the right questions.Grief Connects Us bridges the gap between patients and doctors, providing a window into their shared concerns. Interspersing reflections from Victoria's journal, stories of patients and colleagues, and insights from experts, Dr. Stern has orchestrated a symphony of voices guiding us toward greater mutual understanding and appreciation of the beauty and fragility of life.
No matter which side of the patient-doctor relationship you find yourself on, listening with empathy, a willingness to be vulnerable, and emotional agility are skills we can all develop to improve how we meet difficult, unavoidable challenges.
"Many of us build walls that are impenetrable, but few of us are immune to the power of grief. By interweaving his own vulnerability and suffering with those of other patients and physicians, Dr. Stern makes us understand that only through empathy and compassion can we truly connect. Powerful, profound, and compelling.”—James R. Doty, MD, Professor of Neurosurgery and founder of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, Stanford University School of Medicine, New York Times bestselling author of Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Secrets of the Brain and the Mysteries of the Heart
“In Grief Connects Us, Stern dissects the heart-wrenching illnesses of people close to him, and in so doing dismantles the emotional armor those of us in medicine unwittingly don, to accompany his patients in their suffering and feel with them. A transformative read.”—Mikkael A. Sekeres, MD, MS, author of When Blood Breaks Down: Life Lessons from Leukemia and essayist for the New York Times
“Every patient and medical professional who meets the line that separates them will understand when it needs to be dissolved to open the gateway for empathy and compassion. Grief Connects Us is an essential guide and inspiration in these challenging times.”—Helen Riess, MD, author of The Empathy Effect, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
"A grieving brother, an expert neurosurgeon. As Jody lives through his sister's death, we see him grow into his human-ness. And as Dr. Stern examines his profession, he detects and prescribes compassion. This is a brave tale, and the teller is broken, open, yearning, and true."—Margaret Edson, author of Wit
"Dr. Stern gives us the gift his sister and her family gave to him: insights into what it means to traverse illness and the quandaries of the healthcare system, to hold hope and despair in the same hand. And, importantly, he allows us into the quiet and under-appreciated zone of being a caregiver, a zone with its own forces and triumphs and miseries unlike any other."—BJ Miller, MD, hospice and palliative medicine physician and author of A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death
"Grief Connects Us is the moving account of Dr. Stern’s transformation from reserved neurosurgeon to the kind of compassionate physician we all hope for. His book is a heartbreaking yet inspiring call for a more courageous relationship between patients and doctors, one marked by openness, mutual respect, and the acknowledgment of our common humanity.”—Pauline Chen, MD, physician and New York Times bestselling author of Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality
“Grief Connects Us is a beautiful book and an important one. The way Dr. Stern writes about illness, hospitals, diagnoses—all the things clouding collective consciousness—from the dual perspective of expertise and lived experience is particularly timely and urgent.”—Catherine Mayer, author of Good Grief and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party (UK)