A Grief Like No Other : Surviving the Violent Death of Someone You Love

a-grief-like-no-otherOn Memorial Day Weekend in 1999, Kathleen O’Hara learned that her son, Aaron Land and his roommate Brian Muha, both students at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, had been kidnapped and murdered. In that moment, O’Hara was plunged into a world she did not want to be in, and made a member of a club she never wanted to join—the survivors of a violent death.

A Grief Like No Other retraces the first hours from the time Aaron was discovered missing through the confirmation of his death, through all of the experiences that follow in the aftermath of a violent death. As O’Hara recounts her own journey through the first year of recovery, she offers step-by-step guidance to readers to help them navigate their own ocean of grief and create their own recovery process.

There are both practical tips like, find a surrogate to explain the tragic event to others for you when you are too tired, (p.6.) as well as emotional how-to’s. Kathleen explains that naming the huge waves of emotion that would overtake her as “the torturers” helped her shape the grief into something she could begin to manage, (p.93). Further, she suggests readers name their own emotional waves to help them also gain a sense of control. There are also bullet point suggestions for friends of the survivors, (p.55) that clearly outline how to behave toward the bereaved in the wake of a tragedy.

While this book is directed towards current sufferers, the unthinkable can happen at any time, to anyone. Homicide, suicide, drug-overdose, vehicular homicide, war, or terrorism are too frequent realities of our world and there are few at-hand resources friends and family can turn to in order to understand what lies ahead and how they can go on living after such a tragedy. This book provides just such precious, compassionate aid.
The book is organized into sections which present the seven stages that support people to cope with the symptoms and effects of complex grief in the first year and beyond. These stages include:

  • Learning how to tell your story.
  • Developing inner resources.
  • Building a support network.
  • Riding the waves of overwhelming grief.
  • Understanding the principles of acceptance, forgiveness and gratitude.
  • Using creativity for healing and learning how to live again.
  • Embracing this new world and creating a new future.

Each step is uniquely geared to the survivor of Violent Death Trauma because, while there are many resources for people grieving available in print and on line, few approach the special needs of the violent death survivor. The psychological effects of a violent death are different, more heightened, and complicated than other types of bereavement. Being a therapist and having experienced Violent Death Trauma herself, O’Hara is uniquely qualified to provide the comfort and instruction that specifically addresses the needs of the reader.
A Grief Like No Other is a classic resource that has helped thousands of people cope with the sudden or violent death of a loved one. It provides real strategies to cope with the unimaginable tragedies that have become too familiar in our society. Written with warmth and insight, this is a book that survivors can relate to. It has become the go-to resource for help with one of life’s most devastating experiences.

A poem written by a client, Fran Gerstein, whose son Daniel died in Philadelphia. Today, Fran, a therapist, helps people struggling with Violent Death Trauma.

Coral Therapy by Fran Gerstein

She says that coral lies beneath
this vast ocean known as grief.
My therapist is one to know.
She lost her own son years ago.

How, I ask, can coral be
a symbol of hope for broken me?

She says we must swim an ocean to find
a new shore-not what’s left behind.

I say that this is hard to know
since all I feel is undertow.

She says that it is her belief
amidst the ocean there are reefs.
To partake of them, we must dive deep.
Write, she says, instead of weep.

I let her know, instead of drown,
I commit to writing things down.
I trust her words, I have no choice.
My only truth is my own voice.

As I dive, sea creatures feed
and I surrender to their lead.
Despite trepidation and disbelief,
I drink lifeblood from coral reef.
Poems appear despite my doubt.
I write through my pain – it’s the only way out.

Reviews from Amazon:

I would recommend this book not only for those who are experiencing the horrific pain associated with grief, but also for those who love them. Many of my friends and family members have bought Kathleen O’Hara’s book and have gained a better understanding of what I and my family are going through.

It was just over one year ago that our son was killed in action. Mother’s Day, 2005. I have struggled to find the words to write, the things to say, a way to begin working through this terrible pain. After reading and re-reading A Grief Like No Other, I have been given such a gift. The book gives the reader tools to begin writing. Suggestions on how to deal with the overwhelming grief, examples of others who have lost someone to violence and how they feel. It gave me courage and hope.

The author writes about her own experience of losing her son to violence. She is an amazing woman. Her book is well worth reading and sharing with others.


I bought this book for a friend who had suffered the death of two of her children through a tragic automobile accident. I want to thank Kathleen for having the courage to write the book.

I read this book shortly after my brother was killed a year and a half ago. I continually return to it for guidance and comfort and have used it to help my Mother and Sister cope with the loss too. There are a lot of books about grief but few about the kind of grief that comes with a violent and unexpected loss. This book fills this need.

My daughter recently lost her husband after he was shot and killed. She is left to raise a 5 month old baby without him. At a time of feeling so helpless, giving her a copy of this book was one of the best things I could have done. I bought a copy for myself, so I could help her.

Contact Kathleen:
Email: keohara@aol.com info@kathleenohara.com
Telephone: +44 07713932627
2 Drayson Mews
London, W8 4LY Great Britain