Ramon Presson

It’s been exactly 30 years since Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld wrote to the world about the tornado that touched down on her home and life in the Tennessee hills of Soddy-Daisy.

In 1990, she published Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World. The book, praised by grief therapists worldwide, was later chosen by the American Red Cross as a key resource to be given to professionals and volunteers working with the families of 9/11.

Unlike last week’s loud and violent tornado in and near Nashville, Dr. Neeld’s twister hit on a clear summer day without warning and without a sound. 

The traffic tie-up and emergency vehicles she encountered on a curve above Possum Creek was due to the body of a man found in a ditch just off the road. In the next few moments Elizabeth Neeld would learn that the man was her young husband, Greg. He had suffered a massive heart attack during his regular six-mile run though the community. In an instant her world was shattered and leveled.

In her wise and insightful book, Neeld employed the metaphor of a tornado’s impact on a neighborhood in developing her seven stages of grief and grief recovery.

The Seven Stages and Choices

IMPACT: Experience the unthinkable

CHOICE: To experience and express grief fully

SECOND CRISIS: Stumbling in the dark

CHOICE: To endure with patience

OBSERVATION: Linking the past to the present

CHOICE: To look honestly

THE TURN: Turning into the wind

CHOICE: To re-plan and change our lives to include but not be dominated by the loss.

RECONSTRUCTION: Picking up the pieces

CHOICE: To take specific actions

WORKING THROUGH: Finding solid ground

CHOICE: To engage in the conflicts

INTEGRATION: Daylight

CHOICE: To make and remake choices

The Difference & Sameness of Loss

Honestly, I’m not going to do a good job of explaining these seven stages in a way that’s very helpful to the reader. My hope is that the reader who is experiencing some type of profound loss (death of a loved one, divorce, loss of home, business failure, job loss, bankruptcy, prodigal child, loss of a goal or dream, etc.) will be intrigued enough to get the book.

It’s also my hope that Seven Choices will find its way into the hands of many of our Tennessee residents who lost so much in an instant, who are shocked and grief-stricken, who feel overwhelmed by the rebuilding process ahead. And it’s not just the rebuilding of external structures that feels monumental, but the restoration of the internal states of hope, joy, peace, and faith. 

*Note that there is also a 30th Anniversary pocket edition of Seven Choices available for a shorter read and summary of the principles.

Ramon Presson, PhD, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Franklin (www.ramonpressontherapy.com) and the author of several books. Reach him at ramonpresson@gmail.com.

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