I’ve been tearing through books on mourning, grief, death, and surrounding topics. Since I’ve been reading so many (and quickly), I thought it might be helpful to share a list of them and a brief review to help guide others to materials they may find helpful during times of loss.
A Beginners Guide to the End (BJ Miller, Shoshana Berger)
I HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone with aging family members, an aging body, or who is confronting a critical illness. Solid, practical advice for when to sign up for palliative care, writing a will, how to talk to doctors, how many death certificates to get, how to write an obituary, and much much more surrounding end of life planning. They wanted to write the one-stop book for dying, and they’ve just about succeeded. It’s on the coffee table at all times so I can pick it up and refer to it.
On Grief and Grieving (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross)
Probably the most well-known and regarded in this section, and for good reason. Defines and digs into the “five stages of grief” and offers some guidance through what is – at it’s core – a very human and normal process (albeit messy and miserable). Good guidance for supporting those in grief as well.
Dark Nights of the Soul (Thomas Moore)
I have complex feelings about this one. Pros: Lots of great information about the grieving process and how it can come up in many stages of life (not just with the death of a loved one). Includes thoughtful quotes from many different authors on the topic – including ancient philosophy, various religious texts, poets, etc.. (I’ve gone on to read some of those quoted directly.) Cons: could be at least 30% shorter with a better edit, author was in the seminary at one point and his viewpoint is gently religious, but religious nonetheless.
The Wild Edge of Sorrow (Francis Weller)
Similar information about the processes within grief to other books in this section, but it did hammer in the importance of grief rituals in a way I had not previously considered. It also has a bit of an environmental-mourning lean, which could be helpful for those who are also suffering from climate anxiety.
How to Live When A Loved One Dies (Thich Nhat Hanh)
This is the one I’ll be coming back to for years, and will probably eventually buy a digital copy of to use on my phone. Meditations and writings to calm the mind in the midst of turmoil by one of the most well known Zen Buddhist monks.
Walking Each Other Home (Ram Dass)
Conversation between Ram Dass and Mirabai Bush where Ram Dass shares his views on death, the universe, and how he was approaching his own death. Really beautiful message, meditations, and advice for how to be more fully present with the dying.
The Myth of Sisyphus (Albert Camus)
Less to do with grief, but this was an important read for me during the peak of cancer treatment when I truly did not want to go on. Deserving of its Nobel Prize, but dense and complex reading. Took me months.
Meditations (Marcus Aurelius)
I’m still working on this one (truly there is no rush when it comes to dense reading), but the stoic view has been necessary to process the near-constant change in my life the last 8 months without matching near-constant emotional outbursts.
Death (Todd May)
Philosophical look at how to approach the concept of death. Discusses death from several viewpoints (traditions that believe in an afterlife, Eastern traditions, quotes from ancient and modern philosophers) and attempts to come to a conclusion about how we as modern humans have no choice but to approach our lives (and their fragility) under the specter of death. Jordan has been asking people their views on our postmortem universe, and this book helped me synthesize my own thoughts in a tidy way. Recommend.
A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis)
The personal journal of C.S. Lewis after his wife’s brief fight with cancer. Beautiful. Crushing. He was a complicated writer, but this work is intimate and clearly captures his attempts to process a deep and profound grief, as well as his anger at god.
The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)
Didion’s excellent book on mourning her husband after he died of a heart attack in their New York home – while their daughter was on life support. Beautifully written (because duh), and a wealth of quotes and statistics as the author struggles to comprehend how this could have happened to her.
My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me (Jason B. Rosenthal)
I couldn’t finish this one because it was too far off of my own experience of caregiving and made me feel some guilt I didn’t need to feel. I think it could be a helpful read for people who are not me who want to know more about the experience of spousal loss after chronic illness.
It’s Okay to Laugh: (Crying is OK too) (Nora McInerny Purmort)
I haven’t read this one – and I probably won’t ever be able to now. However, I read the entirety of this woman’s blog in 2013-14 when her husband was dying of brain cancer, and mine was just getting diagnosed. The blog doesn’t exist anymore because she turned it into this book, which is why I’m recommending it here.
Inciting Joy (Ross Gay)
A collection of essays celebrating joy amidst harder emotions by a renown and gifted poet. Amazing writing, Gay is a poet in his every thought. Not grief specific, but an uplifting read when your emotions are too raw to fully ignore.
other helpful resources
I’m finding a need to keep my nervous system settled through various tactics in order to … be in this moment of my life. Here are some other tools I’m using that might be helpful if you’re in a similar situation:
Waking Up App (Sam Harris)
I’ve tried lots of meditation apps, and this is the only one that clicked for me. I meditate all the time now, even if it’s rare for me to do it while sitting in one place. And there’s other content on there too – interviews, talks, etc. More than one book on the above list came from listening to an interview with the author within the app. I’ve also been listening to its deep archive of Alan Watts talks when I walk the dogs.
This practice is a little different than regular yoga, because it’s mostly on the ground and you hold the poses for 3-5 minutes each. It’s very, very relaxing. I started out by watching some videos on YouTube, but I eventually purchased access to an app by the creator I was used the most.