Reading about grief turned out to be the healing practice that helped me with my own sudden loss of my mum. I want to share with my readers the books that find a place on my nightstand. I read everything, from personal experiences, science and spiritual believes around dying and death. Books don’t reflect my personal believes but I did include in this articles paragraphs that resonated with me.
Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death by Joan Halifax
This book describes the Buddhist view on dying and include lessons from dying people and caregivers, as well as guided meditations to help readers contemplate death without fear.
“When sitting with a dying person, I try to ask myself carefully, what words will benefit her? Does anything really need to be said? Can I know greater intimacy with her through a mutuality beyond words and actions? Can I relax and trust in simply being here, without needing my personality to mediate the tender connection we share?” (Page 10)
Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death by Irvin D. Yalom
Throughout the book author guides us how to deal with our fear of death, which is often at the heart of our anxiety.
“The frightening vision of inevitable death, he said, interferes with one’s enjoyment of life and leaves no pleasure undisturbed.” (Kindle location 92)
“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.” (Kindle location 1165)
The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is famous for her life work regarding death and dying which bear fruits in many books. I decided to read her autobiography, but I suggested you take a look at her other books as well.
“As he neared the end, my father refused to eat. It was too painful. But he asked for different bottles of wine from his cellar. It was in character. On the last night, I watched him sleep in excruciating pain. At some critical point, I even gave him an injection of morphine. But then the next afternoon the most extraordinary thing happened. My father awoke from his troubled sleep and asked me to open the window so he could hear the church bell more clearly. For a few moments we listened to the familiar chimes of the Kreuzkirche. Then my father began conversing with his own father, apologizing for letting him die in that dreadful nursing home.” (Page 124)
In It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine
One of my favorite books about grief. Many people who have suffered a loss feel judged, dismissed, and misunderstood by a culture that wants to “solve” grief. Author normalize our experience of grief and shine much more realistic view on grief process.
“Suffering comes with being told to not feel what you feel. Suffering comes with being told there is something wrong with what you feel. Suffering comes with all the crap that gets loaded on us by friends and colleagues random strangers who, with the best of intentions, correct, judge, or give advice on how we need to grieve better. Suffering also comes when we don’t eat, don’t get enough sleep, spend too much time with toxic people, or pretend we’re not in as much pain as we’re in. Suffering comes when we rehash the events that led up to this death or this loss, punishing ourselves for not preventing it, not knowing more, not doing more. Suffering brings with it anxiety, and fear, and isolation.” (Page 89)
Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief: A Revolutionary Approach to Understanding and Healing the Impact of Loss by Claire Bidwell Smith
Author sheds light on a largely hidden dimension of what many grieving people experience: anxiety. In the book you will find explanation for your experience and practical help to ease grief anxiety.
“Until you’ve actually lost someone close to you, there is no way to comprehend the enormity of the experience.” (181 Kindle location)
“After the death of a loved one, many of the fears that run through your mind can be perceived as more of a threat than before the loss. You have witnessed someone die, and now that inevitability is more real than ever before in your life. So when you have a fear-based thought about that person’s death, or about your own mortality, or a worry about losing someone else, your body and mind are reacting stronger than before you experienced loss”. (317 Kindle location)
“After we go through a major loss in life, we tend to become hypervigilant to bodily sensations such as these. Whereas before the loss we may not have noticed these same bodily sensations, now that we have experienced the death of a loved one, we are preoccupied with the thought that something similar could happen to us, so when we feel the sensations of worry in our body, our fear response increases.” (362 Kindle location)
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
This book is a classic. Author describes his grief process after he lost his wife.
“I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the lovemaking, the tiny, heartbreaking commonplace.”
“Did you ever know, dear, how much you took away with you when you left? You have stripped me even of my past, even of the things we never shared.” (Kindle location 495)
A Matter of Death and Life by Irvin D. Yalom
There are two authors of this book. Irvin describes the process of losing his wife Marilyn to the cancer, and she describes her process of dying.
“When I shall be facing death, there will be no Marilyn hovering, always available, always beside me. There will be no one holding my hand. Yes, my four children and my eight grandchildren and many friends will spend time with me, but alas, they will not have the power to penetrate the depths of my isolation.” (Kindle location 953)
The year of magical thinking by Joan Didion
Author describes grief process throughout a year following her husband dead and the death of her daughter due to illness. In the book she incorporates medical and psychological research on grief and illness.
“Despite our preparation, indeed, despite our age, dislodges things deep in us, sets off reactions that surprise us and they may cut free memories and feelings that we had thought gone to ground long ago. We might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean’s bed, aware of the depth changes, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections.” (Page 27)
“Person under the shock of genuine affliction are not only upset mentally but are all unbalanced physically. No matter how calm or controlled they seemingly may be, no one can under such circumstances be normal.” (Page 57)
The Orphaned Adult: Understanding and Coping with Grief and Change After the Death of Our Parents by Alexander Levy
Author describes what grief process looks like after the death of our parent. Although losing our parents when we ourselves are adults is in the natural order of things, this passage proves inevitably more difficult than we thought it would be. This as well is one of my favorite books that I read.
“Parental loss is a powerful event that spurs some towards maturation and creativity while propelling others into a regressed reclamation of unfinished adolescence. Perhaps death of a parents in adulthood is the midlife crisis.“ (Page 60)
“Parental death divides adulthood into three distinct stages: The time with two parents, the time with one parent, and the time with no parents. Each parent’s death is the threshold for the next stage, a signal to move on as distinct as the ringing school bell announcing that it is time for students to go to their next class. Those in one stage of parental loss tend not to be able to imagine the realities of people who have progressed to the next one. And because those at the same stage share a common experience and point of view, they tend to congregate and become friends.” (Page 99)
Of child: look books in sudden death section
The Sudden Loss Survival Guide: Seven Essential Practices for Healing Grief (Bereavement, Suicide, Mourning) by Chelsea Hanson
Author gathers everything that she learned during her own recovery process and provides an indispensable road map to aid those who’ve experienced a life-changing loss.
“About six months after Mom died, I weighed a meek 110 pounds due to sudden weight loss. I suffered migraine headaches, endured the care of a neurologist, and experienced an excessive need to sleep. I was physically sick with grief—something I didn’t even know could happen. Despite these conditions, I appeared “fine” on the outside. Perhaps it was wishful thinking from others combined with my failure to ask for assistance as well as my false façade. Inside, I knew differently. I felt like a part of me was lost. I was bewildered, disoriented, and was not functioning effectively.” (Kindle location 1497)
The Loss of Lacey: A Mother’s Story of Facing Her Greatest Fear and Coping with Devastating Grief by Nancy Jarrell O’Donnell
Books talks about the mother who lost a daughter Lacey in a car accident. I would recommend this book to everyone that is going through the sudden lost. She gives a lot of inside about emotional state after the loss. Her anguish is tangible. As a therapist herself, she also includes a lot of practical interventions and scientific research combined with her painful personal story.
“Several years later, I learned that this kind of obsessive behavior—the engraved vision in my mind and my need to know—was typical for someone suffering from traumatic grief. At the time this was all happening, I just felt crazy.” (Page 28)
“The nature of the death and its circumstances play a significant role in experiencing traumatic grief.” (Page31)
“I was plagued with all the “I should have’s,” and thought about what I could have or should have done to prevent her death I learned to stop this thinking. It would not bring Lacey back and it only resulted in my feeling worse than I already did. Parental guilt comes with the territory of just being a parent. Not allowing guilt or shame to seep into my drastically changed life became work in progress for me day by day.” (Page 32)
Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide by Christopher Lukas
The book explains the profound, traumatic effect suicide has on individuals left behind and the world of silence, shame, guilt, and depression that can follow this event.
“Survivor may begin to ask why so many people around them seem either oblivious to their pain or are cruel in the way they are reacting to it; why the support that might be available to them if their loved ones had died in a car accident is absent because the death was a suicide.” (Page 37)
“There is one pervasive reaction that survivors have to suicide, it is guilt. Suddenly, there seem to be endless reasons to feel responsible for the death. What could I have done to keep the loved one alive? Did I do enough? Was I neglectful? Did I ignore warning signs?” (Page 39)
“The guilt and depression among parental survivors does seem to be more intense and longer lasting than among others. Every single parent to whom we talked expressed this same feeling: their “job” had been to protect their child—and they had failed. Perhaps their worst nightmare of this is the fear that if one child dies by suicide, others will too. Parents sometimes express intense anger toward their dead child, followed by denial of those feelings, then intense guilt and depression.” (Page 127)
No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving The Suicide Of A Loved by Carla Fine
Author discovered her husband, a successful young physician, after he took his own life. She speaks frankly about the overwhelming feelings of confusion, guilt, shame, anger, and loneliness that are shared by all survivors.
“There is no dignity or privacy in suicide. The police, the super, the dog walkers, the gawkers all found out that my husband killed himself at the same exact time it was confirmed to me.” (Page 27)
“After my husband’s death, I felt that I was the focus of gossip. I sensed that there was this question about my integrity as a wife. I felt very pointed-out, judged, and objectified. My friends gradually stopped including me in their plans. I don’t know if they dropped me because I was a single woman or because of my husband’s suicide or both. All I know is that when I was invited to two weddings of the children of people who had been my closest friends, once I was seated with three elderly widows and the other time I was put at the children’s table. My circle of friends—the couples—were sitting together.” (Page 144)
“For many parents, guilt over their children’s suicide is compounded by the real or perceived prejudgment that they are responsible for the actions of their children.” (Page 157)
Coping with Traumatic Death: Homicide by Bob Baugher
This book is a practical guide of what to expect after the homicide regarding the legal system, funeral arrangements, and police investigation. It is combined with the personal story of a father who lost his daughter to homicide. Book is written for American legal system, but it can be helpful for other countries as well.
“In addition, many families of violent crime victims report that an added burden to their grief was the way in which the media reported the crime.” (Kindle location 220)
After the trial, you might fall into a “black hole.” You feel yourself slipping into a state of confusion and dejection. Your disposition will become confusing to you and others at times, and you may think you are going crazy—and, in a way you are—grief is a kaleidoscope of crazy feelings coming and going.” (Kindle location 553)
I Am Jessica: A Survivor’s Powerful Story of Healing and Hope by Jamie Collins
Authors family members are brutally murdered while she is away having a sleepover at her friend’s house. At the time 10-year-old Jessica tells her story now as an adult and describes her struggles coping with a murder of her family.
“I had no idea how I was ever going to get over this, or if I even should. How could anyone get over this? It was such an evil act”. (Kindle location 1046)
“Something is different about her. I sense it. It’s something I notice right away. She is now more of a silent spectator. She just sits, or stands there, watching. Always watching, but not really engaging. Not really talking. Not really having fun with us. Not really. If something happens that is funny, she does smile, but it’s more of a smile of acknowledgment, not a true reaction. When she does smile, her smile doesn’t reach her eyes. Her eyes seem flat. Far away. Distant.” (Kindle location 1489)
A Grief Like No Other: Surviving the Violent Death of Someone You Love by Kathleen O’Hara
Author describes her grief after her son was brutally murdered. It is a helpful book to normalize your feelings and prepares you of what is yet to come.
“From the moment you hear of your loved one’s death, from the moment you learn of the violent act, you are forced to become a player in an unexpected scenario, one for which you have no script. Everything is happening very quickly; you are shocked by what you are seeing or hearing. You are not merely a spectator; you are living this. Almost immediately, you will need to inform other people of the events at hand. They will probably include members of your family, friends, relatives, doctors, nurses, and legal or other professionals involved with the situation.” (Page 5)
“Survivors often feel as if they are the ones with the problem, as though they are rejected by the very society they thought they were part of. You may feel as if you did something wrong, and unfortunately there may be people who sometimes unconsciously or unintentionally reinforce this notion. For example, when Aaron and Brian first disappeared, people whom I knew suggested that my son was involved in something I didn’t know about, which must have been the reason he was missing.” (Page 9)
We torture ourselves with what we could have done differently. We play the scenes of our lives over and over again, and struggle to recall whatever our last conversation was before the tragedy occurred —how casual or trite it may seem now—why couldn’t we have expressed our love, said a meaningful good-bye? We judge ourselves harshly, see our faults and magnify them—why weren’t we kinder, more generous with our time or attention, and on and on. We make endless lists of what we could have done but didn’t do. We beg for just a moment more to love, to change, to make it different, or even for history to rewrite itself, for us to be taken in that persons place. But instead, we are left with the terrible realization that nothing we can do will change what happened and we must learn to live with it. (Page 99)