Seven Books That Understand Your Grief

When it comes to funerals, I’m terrible. I haven’t attended for a family member in 25 years, even though in that time, at least one relative has died a year – from cancer, gunshot wounds, global pandemics. I had to find other ways to mourn. Today, I often navigate grief in a quiet, private state—and I use literature to help me get there.

It’s not just me: Most people I know have been in the grief cleanse for years. The most obvious is for the 6.5 million people who died during the pandemic worldwide. Others lament tax breaks, losing their homes, recessions, or environmental destruction. For some, the sense of mourning changed as new forms of collective loss came together with the inability to gather in person. But when distance denied people their traditional funeral rites, they found new rituals that could guide them, as I did.

One of these can be read, which offers a way to share, process and understand grief. In fiction and nonfiction, through funny dramas or witty insights into the human condition, writers examine how grief can be a reckoning, a disaster, a period of stasis, or a flawed project. Writing alone cannot take away pain, but prose can be part of one’s inner healing. Below are seven books that offer new perspectives on death and grief—and help us understand the totality of these singular, singular phenomena.


A sad cover
harpoon

A grief has been seenby CS Lewis

In the opening line A grief has been seen There is a wonderful aphorism: “No one ever told me that grief feels like fear.” This fear is the basis of Lewis’s book – the fear of not knowing the meaning of life, the fear of consciousness becoming self-deluded and losing the vivid memory of its love. It is an account of how Lewis mourned the death of his wife, Joy Davidman, who died of cancer in 1960. In the text, Lewis speaks not only of his emotional feelings but also of his bodily response: he feels “drunk” and “distracted.” A grief has been seen Has his account been opened, and a reminder that “death only reveals the void that was always there.” The prose is full of gems that imagine mourning as a “wind valley” or a process that develops as a person moves beyond despair. Lewis knew that grief does not live only in the mind, and tragically shows that pain can fade away, remembering death.


The cover of The Year of Magical Thinking
Knopf

The year of magical thinking, by Joan Didion

All in all, a unique pain to eat The year of magical thinking, where Didion writes of her husband’s death and its aftermath as both extraordinary and overwhelming. She reflects vividly on what they did the night before her fatal heart attack, her retreat to the emergency room, the tyranny of paperwork, what she ate and when she ate it. By cataloging the extraordinary aspects of their lives, he describes the basis of their love: it is not mere invention but a recognition that, as Didion notes, “grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that It weakens the knees and blinds the eyes. Destroy the routine of life.” She portrays her regret, sadness, and loneliness not just as emotions but as embodied suffering—a “tightness in the throat” or “stiffness.” Didion’s prose, frequently cold, controlled, and detached, here takes a path. She joins a group of people who exist in the buffer between the living and the dead, and recognizes that despite her ability to write all the events surrounding her death, her Husband Notes – Even after their four decades together. All he wants is to have her back. Of all Didion’s writing, this is her most raw. Her narrative is no longer under control.

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deathBy Atal Gwande

No matter how much medical expertise a doctor has or how many life-saving interventions are performed, some people who enter the hospital die. The question arises: Should a doctor tell his patient that their condition is fatal, and if so, how do they prepare their responsibility for their staged death? This is the moral dilemma that Guandi exercises at the outset death. The text is a medical prescription that carefully examines the concerns that hinder a dying person. Gowandi notes that the thing people fear is “something short of death—losing their hearing, their memory, their best friend, their way of life.” His insight highlights that grief precedes the end, and suggests that the psychological challenge of dying runs parallel to having a lost body. This book, in part and as a whole, shows that much more is needed outside the hospital to help with the emotional and complex work of facing someone’s death – something that compassion in medical care can do. Weaving, something good is done. As a physician, Gowande makes the case that therapists can do a better job of preparing people for what they will lose well before they lose their lives.


Shipping cover
Milkweed

shippingBy Ada Lemon

Very close you read shipping, The more you realize that grief is universal, even for people and things we never had. In her poem “The Vulture and the Body,” Lemon describes her visit to the fertility clinic and her encounter with many dead animals. Reflecting on the creature’s death and her inability to conceive, Lemon ponders, “What if I grieved instead of carrying a child?” I’ve had six IVF attempts without getting pregnant, and this question perfectly describes my own struggle with infertility. In this collection, Lemon writes the uncertainties through a poetic meter that reads like conversational prose. He finds ways to see and pass the people he loves, the wilderness he seeks, while watching how the birds, dogs, and flowers he admires disappear over time. Lemon is committed to managing her halfway house. When he shows us the beauty of nature in Kentucky and his family in meditation, he signals his joy, affirming his position that there is light and optimism to be found. That’s the beauty of her work: even as she mourns the child she doesn’t have, she finds inspiration in her surroundings—that’s for those working through a restless mind. Can be a useful distraction.

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Air cover
Vintage

the weatherBy Jenny Offel

the weather My favorite apocalyptic comedy show. In what at first appears to be a straightforward plot about contemporary life in New York City, Lizzie, a librarian filmmaker, offers a witty commentary on her hot marriage and middle-class parents. But climate change is coming into the background, and with it, increasing pressure to mobilize resources and plan. Lizzie and the people around her are grieving the safe life they knew: Given that New York is expected to experience “life-altering heat by 2047,” Ofel writes, everyone in the city is on edge, self-inflicted. Finding ways to protect—even destructively. Yet, far from being swept away by despair, Ofel shows us that the coming ecological catastrophe can be apprehended with enlightenment, and the weather The corrupt aspect of domestic life combines with the malaise of the atmosphere. “But this is America,” Lizzy thinks. “You can’t even get the news if you shoot less than three people. I mean, isn’t that the last right they’re going to take away?” This statement is both a stab at contemporary discontent and an example of how humor can be a coping mechanism for dystopia. Although most people will eventually endure domestic and earthly collapse, they can at least laugh through it.


Cover of Transcendental Kingdom
Knopf

The greatest kingdomBy Yaa Gyasi

The stories we refuse to face are far more powerful than the ones we share with others. The greatest kingdom Trauma describes it in a vague and measured way: Gifty, the protagonist, is a Ghanaian-American Ph.D. student in neuroscience with the goal of understanding the science of addiction. Tucked into the narrator’s life as a researcher, the text discusses how this person came to be—her childhood in Alabama as the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, the death of her brother, her mother. Depression, its higher education, emotional coping mechanisms to hide it. Pain replaces the biblical church, which guided her during her childhood, with science, a system that helps explain her family’s pathology. Gyasi invites us to pause, to create a real tension in the slow narration of Gifty’s experiences; In a controlled setting, he clings to the mouse confidently and eventually pulls it away from them, watching over it all the time. Gifty’s way of life is predicated on this careful observation and repetition. This is both an act of verifying scientific facts and part of her quest to understand her brother’s size. This is the way to treat it. He reminds us that we cannot always translate mourning for the outsider or call it by its name, but we can at least move from a state of total loss to a place of personal reconciliation.

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Cover of Lost and Found
random house

found missingBy Catherine Schulz

on the lost, Schulz reflects on what losing her father means to her. He reminds us of the many ways we talk about death rather than the state they are in: they are “no longer with us”; Their death is more than our loss. After her father’s death, Schulz became “unnaturally unemployed and prone to illness and injury”. After consulting a psychiatrist, she was told that her series of illnesses were most likely due to her unconscious self-discovery to cause her body pain. This formula also sounds A grief has been seen– The body expresses grief, and the physical self slowly dissolves. So Schulz manages her grief in part by exploring her family history, the traits she inherited, and even through psychoanalytic explanations for many of the things her father did throughout his life. He was lost and upset. Schulz doesn’t shy away from the fact that some victims may never find rest. But as the book’s title implies, her story is also one of discovery. He falls for someone, and that relationship is the entry point to encounter happiness again in the world. It’s a simple but powerful message: love becomes the basis of self-discovery, even in times of grief.


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