Best books to help you through grief
Posted by AK Lander | On April 25, 2017 09:35
While grief is ultimately a personal experience with individuals expressing and coping in many different ways, literature is often a form of solace for those who find it difficult to interact with people in the same way as prior to their loss.
It is a way of understanding and being understood without speaking, without pity and at the rate that people can choose. Many are used to processeing grief through meditation, the finality of funerals, the visiting of grave stones or in their faith, however while consciously we may put our loss away, some part of our conscious lingers on in sadness. Through reading grief books we can not only confront it but also absolve it.
There are many books out there that deal with grief either subtly or overtly, however too much choice may not always be a good thing and can lead to more confusion and distress than no choice at all. There are also many books of different types of losses, whether the death of a sibling or the loss of a parent.
From classics like C.S. Lewis to more modern accounts of loss, we have compiled our best books to help you through this difficult time.
A Grief Observed – C S Lewis
The oldest book on the list, A Grief Observed was published in 1961 under a pseudonym due to the candid conversation about grief it entails and the questioning nature of the text. C.S. Lewis is best known for his young adult series that refer to the fantasy land of Narnia that has a Christian underpinning and an element of parable in each narrative. Though the Christian aspect is seen throughout A Grief Observed, his blatant questioning of faith and his proximity to despair made many of Lewis’s readers uncomfortable.
Exploring the loss of his wife very early on in their marriage (three years), Lewis’ candid response to her death from cancer has moved many readers since its release. T.S. Eliot was one of the directors of Faber and Faber, the publishing house who first released the book, and found it incredibly moving.
C.S. Lewis wrote other books that indulged in the exploration of the human condition, including The Problem of Pain and Surprised by Joy. While the other two deal with emotions within the structure of religious doctrine, A Grief Observed questions the very nature of the God that Lewis believed in.
Read a preview of A Grief Observed below:
Wild Edge of Sorrow – Francis Weller
The writing in this book frees grief and those grieving from the socially acceptable and therefore the expected behaviours of sorrow. In an effort for proactive and helpful advice, people often fail to listen and instead regurgitate a recently read strategies for dealing with grief without fully understanding what this sorrow entails. Francis Weller rejects this attitude and instead empowers those looking to acknowledge their grief in whatever way feels natural.
Wild Edge of Sorrow recognises that loss is part of the cycle of life and the healing opportunities it offers and also the positives this healing can bring. Believing that grief nurtures deeper connections and more appreciation of beauty, nature and life, ultimately this book is a litany of positivity in a time of darkness.
Read a preview of The Wild Edge of Sorrow below:
Poor Your Soul – Mira Ptacin
This is by no means an easy book, instead it challenges and confronts the emotions often swept behind platitudes. The author explores further the intricacy of the human psyche and the contradictory emotions that define grief. Following the story of the Ptacin in her late twenties, experiencing an unplanned pregnancy that is riddled with hard decisions and the oncoming approach of grief. This narrative is intertwined with her mother’s as she comes to terms with the sudden loss of her only son.
Mira Ptacin refuses to find order or pattern in her own struggle and instead merely portrays grief how she finds it. When asked about her writing, she responded: “I wrote my memoir to exorcise the grief out of me, and to explore it. What I discovered, as a writer, was that the structure of grief, or the shape of it - however it comes out - is messy and unpredictable. It cannot be avoided, and for me, it was best to embrace it and notice it, and let it happen. I recorded it in my memoir so that my experience would make others feel less afraid in their own. I like to believe it helped.”
Read a preview of Poor Your Soul below:
Motherless Daughters- Hope Edelman
Motherless Daughters moves to an inevitable distress that all women will at some point face, the death of a role model, family member, teacher and supporter, the death of a mother. While the book explores the impact our mothers have on our psyche, not only as daughters but as women and individuals, it also allows people to prepare, to tease out and to understand what is left when their mother has gone. For a figure as core as a mother to die, it shakes the infrastructure of a woman’s personality, Motherless Daughters allows us to sort through and cobble ourselves back together again.
Read a preview of Motherless Daughters below:
Second Firsts- Christina Rasmussen
With more practical elements, this book is more of a guide to modern loss than a novel, seeking to move you forward from the dark places you inhabit while experiencing this sort of sorrow. While years of study may have left Christina aware of the effects of grief, the personal experience of the death of a spouse brought her to the realisation that one can never be ready for loss. When asked on the motivation behind her book Second Firsts, her team replied:
“The main inspiration behind Christina’s work was, of course, experiencing loss first hand. She realized through her own grief, that what people needed the most, while grieving was someone who not only understood what they were experiencing, but also knew what they could do to get through their grief. The approach outlined in her book, has an individual approach, with no timelines. Everyone experiences their own grief, and moves through it at their own pace, and her work allows for this individuality. Therefore, people who read her book, and do her work, learn how to discover their new identities after loss, and how to re-enter the life that accompanies these new identities. There is a realization that there can be life and happiness after loss.”
Read a preview of Second Firsts below:
The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights - Joan Didion
For some, grief seems to be relentless and that is certainly the case for author Joan Didion. A writer whos two books, The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights look at the loss of her husband and then shortly after her daughter.
In their review of Blue Nights, The Guardian wrote: "Blue Nights is a tragic kind of sequel to The Year of Magical Thinking, describing the subsequent death of Didion's daughter Quintana, aged only 39: where the earlier book drew its strength from the common well of suffering, the follow-up must grapple with the awful particularity of Didion's misfortunes."
When a family member like a brother or sister dies, or a loved one of whom you've only known for a short while it can be hard to cope. Whatever loss you have faced there is literature that can help you not only overcome it, but learn from it. This is a short list of some of our favourite books about grief but there are certainly hundreds, if not thousands, more that should be recommended.
The best books about grief:
- A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
- Wild Edge of Sorrow – Francis Weller
- Poor Your Soul – Mira Ptacin
- Motherless Daughters – Hope Edelman
- Second Firsts – Christina Rasmussen