What should we do when life hands us lemons? According to cognitive psychologist Raeleen Mautner, the answer isn’t to make lemonade, but limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur that, with its added kick, reminds us to motivate ourselves to make our lives better after loss. But while Mautner’s book dives into the topic of resilience with the right idea and does provide some soothing self-help tools, the slow pace and torpid language makes me wonder where the “kick” is.
After reading that the book integrates aspects of Italian culture into the process of recovering from loss, I became eager to learn more, especially since my grandfather recently passed away. I was looking to be comforted by the author’s words and to get some advice to better cope with my feelings. In that department, Mautner delivers, using personal anecdotes and encouragement to make readers feel more at peace and to learn to accept their new lives. And, the way she organizes main points at the end of each chapter helps readers keep track of key ideas that they may want to return to later on.
Mautner’s approach is for the reader to first just “let it be,” then to slowly but surely take some action to heal after loss or personal hardship. She also includes home recipes at the end of several chapters, authentic Italian treats meant to help you “lose yourself” in cooking and allow yourself to be distracted, if just for a while.
The first two parts of the book remind the reader to appreciate the world and the beauty that surrounds us all to help calm sad and guilty emotions and bring happiness. Enjoying doing nothing after a loss, Mautner writes, gives you time to “recharge your own battery” and acclimate to the loss so you can begin to heal. She encourages readers to “slow the pace” to help relax the mind or to even take a nap to strengthen the spirit.
After getting accustomed to your new life, Mautner writes, it’s time to react and move on, by beginning to organize your home or by using creativity. Her goal in that area is to help readers start their new lives and become their own influence. She gently persuades readers to feel joy again by trying to “make the difficult look easy”: to learn coping skills and stay positive. There is also a strong emphasis on music and dance as sources of happiness, especially the traditional Italian tarantella, a “trancelike dance” that, combined with upbeat music, is said to help people forget their troubles.
But although Mautner’s advice is to take it slow and accept what she calls the changing nature of life’s experiences, her techniques to achieve this level of acceptance are themselves too slow and drawn out. After we experience the death of a loved one or an equally painful life event, it does take time to “believe in something greater” or to “work hard to forget” — but we also need some motivation to finally get moving.
When I was reading the book, I felt too calm: much too calm to get up and improve my life as Mautner intends. Even though her words produced a soothing effect, the end product seemed counterproductive in getting anyone out of the sadness that follows loss.
There are also several instances throughout the book where Mautner seems be promoting her website. I was getting tired of reading lines like “For a list of my suggestions, visit raeleenmautner.com.” It’s as if she was holding back information while writing the book just to get more visitors to her site. The continued mentions were distracting and disrupted the tone of the book.
That said, Lemons into Limoncello may be a useful book if you like to take things one step at a time and are in no hurry to heal. Meanwhile, those of us who need uplifting inspiration are just going to have to wait.
Lemons into Limoncello: From Loss to Personal Renaissance with the Zest of Italy
Health Communications, Inc., May, 2013
Paperback, 288 pages