Seven Books That Understand Your Grief

When it comes to funerals, I am a guide. I haven’t visited a family member in 25 years, even during that time one relative died every year—of cancer, gunshot wounds, and spread across the country. I had to find other ways to cry. Today, I often experience bereavement in a quiet, private space—and I use books to help me get there.

It’s not just me: Many people I know have been in grief purgatory for years now. The most visible figure is the 6.5 million people who died worldwide during the pandemic. Others are complaining about the loss of income, loss of their homes, economic decline, or the destruction of the environment. For others, the feeling of grieving changed as new ways of losing together came along with the inability to gather themselves. But when the distance denied people their traditional funeral customs, they found new ways that could guide them, like I did.

One of these can be reading, which provides a way to share, process, and understand grief. In fiction and non-fiction, through tragic dramas or insight into the human condition, writers explore how grief can be reading, frustration, a period of stasis, or an incomplete project. Writing alone cannot take away the pain, but prose can be part of the inner healing. Below are seven books that offer new perspectives on death and mourning—and help us understand this lonely, collective experience.


Cover of Crying Noted
HarperOne

Crying is Noticableby CS Lewis

The opening line is in Crying is Noticable is a shocking quote: “No one ever told me that sadness was like fear.” That fear is the basis of Lewis’s book—the fear of not knowing the meaning of life, the awareness of self-deception, and the loss of a clear memory of his love. This is an account of how Lewis was bereaved by the death of his wife, Joy Davidman, who died of cancer in 1960. In the essay, Lewis is not only talking about his emotional distress but about his physical response: He is feeling “drunk” and “confused.” Crying is Noticable his procrastination is exposed, and it is a reminder that “death only marks the absence that was there.” The text is full of gems that imagine grief as a “rolling valley,” or a process that changes as a person moves beyond depression. Lewis understood that grief doesn’t just live in the mind, and sadly it shows that as the pain fades, so can the memories of the deceased.


Cover of the Year of Magical Thinking
Knopf

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

A severe burn injury throughout The Year of Magical Thinking, where Didion writes about her husband’s death and its aftermath as both mundane and overwhelming. He thinks a lot about what they did the night before his fatal heart attack, his return to the emergency room, the paperwork, what he ate and when he ate it. By organizing the forbidden parts of their lives, they reveal the basis of their love: These are not mere descriptions but the awareness that, as Didion says, “sadness comes in waves, shocks, sudden shocks that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and . destroying everyday life.” He expresses his regret, sadness, and loneliness not only as feelings but as visible suffering—”swelling in the throat” or “choking.” Dion’s prose, often cool, restrained, and reserved, takes over here. She joins a group of people who exist in the space between the living and the dead, and admits that despite her ability to document all the events surrounding her death, her memory of her husband fails—even after four decades together. All he wants is to give her back. Of all Didion’s writings, this is his ignorance; his narration is uncontrollable.

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Being a Mortalby Atul Gawande

It doesn’t matter how skilled the doctor is or how many life-saving procedures are performed, some people who enter the hospital die. The question arises: Should a doctor tell his patient that his situation is fatal, and if so, how do they prepare for their own guilt for their impending death? This is the moral dilemma that Gawande delves into in the first place Being a Mortal. The text is a medical book that carefully examines the concerns of a dying person. Gawande says that the thing that people fear “is what happens soon—not being able to hear, remember, their best friends, their way of life.” His intellectual pieces show that grief precedes the end, and he shows that the psychological problem of dying is related to having a dying body. This book, in part and as a whole, reveals that much needs to be done outside the hospital to help with the emotional and complex work of dealing with human death—something that is best done when compassion is involved in treatment. As a doctor, Gawande makes the point that doctors can do a better job of preparing people for what they will lose before they die.


Cover of The Carrying
Milkweed

To carryand Ada Limón

The more you read To carry, then you realize that crying is found everywhere, even for people and things we never had. In his poem “Water & Body,” Limón describes his trip to the fertility clinic and his encounters with many dead animals. Thinking about the death of these creatures and not being able to conceive, Limón ponders, “What if, instead of carrying a child, I will have to carry misery?” I tried 6 times IVF without getting pregnant, and that question really highlighted my suffering with infertility. In this collection, Limón writes ambiguously through poetic meters that read like spoken prose. He finds ways to look beyond the people he loves, the desert he explores, seeing how the birds, dogs and flowers he admires fade away over time. Limón volunteered to give agency to his semirural home. When he shows us the beauty of nature in Kentucky and in the contemplation of his family, he is expressing his joy, emphasizing his attitude that there is light and hope to be found. That’s the beauty of her work: Even when she’s grieving for a child she doesn’t have, she finds inspiration in her environment—she can be a helpful distraction for those working through an unstable emotional state.

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Weather Cover
Vintage

Weatherby Jenny Offill

Weather it has become my favorite apocalyptic comedy. In what begins to seem like a straightforward suggestion about modern life in New York City, Lizzie, a librarian character, offers an insightful account of her tumultuous marriage and parenting. But climate change lags behind, and, with it, increasing pressure to mobilize resources and implement a plan. Lizzie and the people around her are mourning the safe life they knew: Considering that New York is expected to experience “life-changing temperatures by 2047,” Offill writes, everyone in the city is on edge, looking for ways to protect themselves – even. in a destructive way. However, far from hanging on to despair, Offill shows us that the impending disaster of nature can be taken lightly, and Weather it combines the everyday nature of domestic life with the immersion of space danger. “But it’s America,” Lizzie muses. “You will not be in the news if you shoot less than three people. I mean, isn’t that the last one they’ll take? All of these comments are a stab at modern dissatisfaction and are also an example of how humor can be a way to solve dystopia. Although many people end up enduring home and land breakdowns, they can laugh through it.


The cover of Transcendent Kingdom
Knopf

The Kingdom Transcendsby Yaa Gyasi

The stories we refuse to tell can be louder than the ones we tell others. The Kingdom Transcends narrates the trauma in a blunt and measured way: Gifty, the protagonist, is a Ghanaian American Ph.D. student in neuroscience who aims to understand the science of addiction. Based on the author’s life as a researcher, the novel explores how this character came to be—her childhood in Alabama as the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, the death of her brother, her mother’s depression, her higher education, her coping mechanisms to hide her feelings. pain. He replaces the Evangelical Church, which guided him in his youth, with science, a system that helps explain his family’s behavior. Gyasi invites us to pause, creating real tension while explaining the slowness of Gifty’s efforts; in a controlled setting, he takes the mice attached to the Ivesure and eventually takes them away from them, watching them the whole time. Gifty’s existence is predicated on careful observation and repetition. It’s all an act of asserting scientific truth and part of his quest to understand his brother’s excesses. This is his way of healing. He reminds us that we cannot always change the cry to outsiders or call it by its name, but we can go from complete loss to, to a place of reconciliation with ourselves.

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Cover of Lost & Found
Random House

Lost & Foundby Kathryn Schulz

In Lost & Found, Schulz dwells on what it meant to him to lose his father. He reminds us of the many ways in which we speak of death as the departure of a person from us, instead of the state he is in: “They are no longer with us”; their death is more our loss than theirs. Following his father’s death, Schulz became “unruly and sick of injuries.” After consulting a psychiatrist, he was told that a series of illnesses were most likely due to his ignorance of finding ways to induce physical pain. This amendment resonates Crying is Noticable-the body shows despair, and the physical person slowly dissolves. So Schulz begins to process his grief, in part, by examining his family history, the traits he inherited, and even a psychological explanation of the many things his father lost and his grief over his life. Schulz does not shy away from the fact that some of those who suffer may never find comfort. But as the title of the book suggests, his story is also one of discovery. He falls for someone, and that relationship is an entry point to experience happiness in the world again. It’s a simple but powerful message: Love is the basis of self-discovery, even in times of trouble.


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