Good Grief: A Survivor’s Story

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In the Spring of 1999, Erica McNeal was a typical college student. She was finishing up her senior year at Hope International University (HIU) with 19 units and was captain of the women’s volleyball team. That same semester, she was diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully, McNeal was not alone in this journey. Professors, roommates, friends, and teammates all surrounded her with support, encouragement, and strength to the point that sometimes McNeal would forget she even had cancer. “I really feel that Hope was the absolute best place for me to be at that time in my life when that diagnosis hit.” Her experience, which she labeled “awesome,” was one that would stay with her in years to come and helped her not only understand her diagnosis but also inspired her to write a book, Good Grief! which released on June 11, 2011.

The book, which is available for immediate download on her blog, chronicles her journey and acts as a reference guide for friends and family members who do not know what to say to a loved one who is struggling. After her first cancer diagnosis, McNeal faced two more bouts with cancer, the death of her daughter, two miscarriages, and a failed adoption. Amazingly, McNeal has not only found the strength to carry on with her own life but to encourage others as well. Having gone through so many trials, she realized that she could reach out to others and help them understand, share, and find God in their grief.

Her blog, Finding God’s Fingerprints, now boasts over 12,000 views and hundreds of subscribers. Readers connect with McNeal’s honest and transparent writing, likely because her words mirror their own struggles and feelings. "I think I'm real,” she said. “I deal with real emotions. I’m not afraid to be vulnerable."

As the blog grew in popularity and McNeal saw the positive impact it had on people, she decided to meet with a publisher to work out what she thought would be a one book deal. Instead, the publisher wanted her to write three: a memoir, a teaching guide, and a reference book, which became Good Grief!

The basis of McNeal’s books was her understanding that people who are grieving are often asked by others, “What can I do?” The reality is that they have no idea how to answer this question because they are so consumed with their own pain. In trying to be helpful or compassionate, there are things that we tend to say to people who are grieving, phrases that McNeal believes are incredibly damaging. “We’ve been conditioned on what to say when people are grieving, not realizing until we are the recipients how hurtful some of those words can be,”notes McNeal. In Good Grief! she cautions against these unintentionally hurtful phrases and instead encourages friends and families to open up meaningful conversation with the grieving person.

McNeal’s compassion for others does not stop with her blog or the release of her book. During the first four months that Good Grief! is available for purchase, all of the proceeds will go to three families who are in need. One is a family with a member who is battling cancer and the other two families are in the process of adopting children with high medical needs. Her excitement for the book’s release is evident, but McNeal is also quick to give credit where it is due. “In everything that my husband [Todd] and I have been through,” she said, “we really try hard to allow God to be glorified through our actions and through our focus.”

The McNeal’s have many other exciting things happening in their lives. Todd, an Air Force pilot, has been stationed in Tampa, FL, and after a brief four month stay in Oklahoma, the McNeal’s will be moving there. Erica and Todd live with their five-year-old daughter Jordyn and 16-month-old son Austin, whom they adopted in November 2009. Though she does not know what the future will bring, McNeal is optimistic. She and Todd hope to find a ministry in Florida to expand their marriage mentor relationships, which they began after taking a course from Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot, nationally recognized marriage and family motivational speakers and authors. McNeal also hopes to adopt more children, finish her memoir, and maybe even transition into adoption ministries someday.

To visit Erica McNeal’s blog, Finding God’s Fingerprints, or purchase her book, Good Grief!, click here.

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