By Joey Madia
It has been rightly said that losing a child is the most unnatural and devastating loss a parent can bear. And, with a yearly rise in deaths from opiate addiction and suicide, more and more parents are having to shoulder this worst of all grief.
Nearly six years ago, Amy Jo Giovannone lost her daughter, Sierra, in unimaginable circumstances involving a beautiful, talented young lady whom everyone loved being prescribed opiates after surgery and finding herself addicted, leading to heroine use, involvement with dangerous and abusive people, a successful stint in rehab, followed by her disappearance and murder at the age of 23.
No one was ever charged. Although there are strong hypotheses, this book, and Amy’s journey, do not center around the pursuit of justice (and, sad to say, there was none).
Instead, Amy has chosen to share her process and philosophy for surviving the death of her daughter.
It is clear early on that the two of them were very close, making the pain all the greater.
What makes this book so valuable and unique (I have read and reviewed several books about death, grief, and loss and have lost several people close to me over the years) is that Amy’s path to healing and wholeness is one less traveled. One that might appeal to those who have tried traditional grief counseling, individually and in groups, and found it wasn’t enough.
Not that there is ever complete healing after a tragedy such as this. As Amy says, “I do remain slightly numb in certain areas (self-protection, I’m sure).” But she also acknowledges that the pain must be experienced, not tucked away or buried in a deep, dark hole. And that an honest journey through the pain will change you in your soul.
Amy does not do it alone. Throughout the book she speaks of God in terms I found comforting, sincere, and beyond the limiting boundaries of various religions. Call it a “higher power” if you’d like. But it is there to help. So much so, Amy is able to come to see that, perhaps because Sierra had suffered so much, God had granted a gift by ending her life. And, even more profound, they were both chosen for it.
That’s how you heal. As Neale Donald Walsch says in Home with God In a Life that Never Ends (a book that was immensely helpful to me when I lost an aunt suddenly with whom I had been very close), “Whatever happens to you happens through you and whatever happens through you happens for you.”
That is not to say that the circumstances were not still painful. Of course they were.
She refers to the dark forces as “the enemy.” This is subtle but Biblical (again without being religious), considering that Satan derives from shaitan, which means “enemy.”
Amy also talks straight, which I found essential to her process. Through the midst of her grief after Sierra’s death, she is forced out of work by a jealous, manipulative coworker. Once upon a time I might have been shocked that someone could be so ignorant and selfish as to make such a heartless play against someone who has gone through so much, but all you have to do is remember the title of this book to abandon that bit of naïveté. Amy doesn’t sugarcoat it or other instances of people being ugly despite her loss. She uses them to point out that “negativity, complaining, or drama” are not things she tolerates in her life. She has no patience for the victim mentality.
This book, and her story, are about encouraging people to appreciate what they do have instead of whining about what they don’t have. Who better to express this than a mother whose lost her child to murder?
Another example she shares is a manager at a store excusing the rude behavior of an employee by saying, “She had a bad day.”
Can you imagine what losing a child—the worry when she doesn’t come home, the frustration when the police won’t file a missing persons report because it’s “probably just an addict who’s using again,” or having to go to that police station a day later to identify her daughter’s beaten, abandoned-by-the-road body—sets as the standard for a “bad day”?
A core strength of this book is that, like a field journal, it is written as Amy journeys through the initial twelve months, leading up to the one-year anniversary of Sierra’s death, so we share her progress and her setbacks. Amy takes us through that anniversary day (while incorporating the events of the day she found out what had happened) and it is both heartbreaking and inspiring.
Amy has taken steps to continue to share her journey and reach audiences beyond her book. She is a frequent speaker. She is codifying her ideas into acronym-based philosophies like RALA: Reflect, Analyze, Learn, and Adjust. Her ideas about self-love and self-preservation are valuable for anyone to incorporate into their lives.
She also includes a dozen or so axioms, usually accompanied by pictures of Sierra, such as “Always choose some time over no time anytime.” When we are in the midst of grief, simple reminders can be a welcome friend.
If Amy’s story moves you, as I know it will, there are ways you can join the conversation and help. Thirty percent of all sales of the book are combined with ten percent of sales from I.B.O.K. [say each letter out loud in succession to reveal its message] merchandise to fund the nonprofit Sierra’s Sanctuary. Visit www.ibokag.com for more details.
TITLE: The World is Not Going to Stop for my Broken Heart
AUTHOR: Amy Jo Giovannone