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Books to help carry the burden of grief

By Kobo • December 21, 2023Big Ideas in Books

These books can help you deal with the grief that loss brings

There's no map for navigating through grief, and everyone's experience of grief is different. Even two people grieving the same loss will travel different paths. Maybe that's why there are so many books and memoirs on the subject, each in their own way offering unique reflections on this singular pain. In these books we hope you'll find comfort, maybe a bit of insight, or just some company on your journey through grief.

It's OK That You're Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn't Understand by Megan Devine

This practical and straightforward guide written by therapist Megan Devine offers reassurance to those feeling undone by grief. Drawing on her clinical practice and personal experiences of loss, Devine seeks to help readers connect with their grief in a healthy, honest way, while offering thoughtful practical tips for carrying on with life while processing feelings of loss.

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Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome. by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner

Authors Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner both lost parents when they were young adults, and that's where they're coming from in this book aimed at navigating grief in a world of hashtags and text messages. Their aim in this book—aided by many guest contributors—is to foster healthy, honest dialogue about grief so people can feel these profound emotions together.

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Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward

Novelist Jesmyn Ward lost five young men who were close to her in the space of five years, and in her fog of grief she desperately wanted to know why this was happening. As she pushed through those dark days, she realized that the men she lost all died as a result of poverty and racism, and she began to explore all the ways that society failed them. This is a stirring memoir about living through loss, and reckoning with forces beyond your control.

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The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

While her daughter was in a drug-induced coma with a life-threatening illness, Joan Didion's husband suffered a massive heart attack and died. Weeks later, her daughter pulled through, only to suffer another major health scare two months later. Shattered by these events—either one of which would have been enough loss for a lifetime—she embarks upon a year of reflection on everything she thought she knew about relationships, life, and loss.

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Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief by Joanne Cacciatore, PhD

Written by a Zen priest who also teaches about bereavement, the 52 chapters of this book can be read in any order, at any time. Each one offers a different insight about love, loss, heartache, and strength.

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On Grief & Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler

Co-written by the author of the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying, which also introduced the five stages of grieving, On Grief & Grieving focuses not on death, but the act of grieving and what this difficult painful process has to offer those who allow themselves to go through it. Examining the well-known five stages of grief as they play out in everyday life, the authors offer advice and reassurance to readers who are in the thick of these emotions, underscoring everything with a message of love.

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Dancing at the Pity Party: a dead mom graphic memoir by Tyler Feder

This graphic memoir about the author's teenage experience of learning of her mother's cancer diagnosis is as funny as it is moving. She writes of all the after-death anniversaries, and the pain of experiencing new things as a young adult and having to unlearn the reflex of wanting to tell her mom about it all.

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The Light of the World: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander

Often after a loss, we may feel moved to focus on finding meaning in what's left to us. That's how poet Elizabeth Alexander felt after the sudden loss of her husband. In the wake of his death, she committed herself to caring for her adolescent boys and finding a deepening sense of gratitude for her family, her community, and her art, which she tells in beautiful, evocative prose.

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Recovering from the Loss of a Sibling by Katherine Fair Donnelly

Many books on grief focus on the death of a parent, child, or partner, but the death of a sibling can be just as devastating. This book addresses the unique qualities of this type of grief and offers suggestions for how to cope with a feeling of loss that often receives less recognition and support than it should.

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Wave: A Memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala

Economist Sonali Deraniyagala was on vacation in Sri Lanka with her husband and their two children, as well as her parents, when they looked out their hotel room window and saw a towering wave in the distance. They ran for their lives—and in the aftermath, she learned that among her loved ones she alone survived. This memoir is about grief on a scale that's impossible for most of us to imagine. And it's also a tribute to her family as she allows herself to remember, piece by piece, all the love they shared.

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The Grieving Brain: The Surprising Science of How We Learn from Love and Loss by Mary-Frances O'Connor, PhD

Neuroscientist and psychologist Mary-Frances O’Connor knows grief from a perspective we seldom think about, especially when we're in it. In this book she explains in a very accessible way how our brains process loss, and also how we form the deep and loving attachments that make loss so hard. She strives to make our own brains more knowable to ourselves, and to give us greater comfort with this entirely human experience.

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An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir by Elizabeth McCracken

In her ninth month of pregnancy, novelist Elizabeth McCracken learns that the baby boy inside her is dead. McCracken invites readers into her experience of this unimaginable loss and shows that even if there's no getting over it, life does carry on.

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The Mourner's Dance: What We Do When People Die by Katherine Ashenburg

When journalist Katherine Ashenburg's daughter experienced the shocking loss of her fiancé, Ashenburg was suddenly drawn into a world of mourning rituals. This sparked her curiosity about how and why people do what they do following a death, which she explores here in tandem with her experience of supporting her bereaved daughter.

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The Hour of Our Death: The Classic History of Western Attitudes Toward Death Over the Last One Thousand Years by Philippe Ariès

Historian Philippe Ariès presents a sweeping study of human perceptions of death as they've developed in the West over centuries. Humans used to live alongside death without much concern, regarding it as an unfortunate but inevitable event that happens to a community. But as individuality began replacing communality as the primary frame for understanding the self, death grew in its power to frighten as it came to represent the annihilation of the increasingly important individual. This is a profoundly insightful book that shines a scholarly light into the darkest corners of the Western mind, offering each of us a broader perspective on what it means to suffer a loss.

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With the End in Mind: Dying, Death, and Wisdom in an Age of Denial by Dr. Kathryn Mannix

Palliative care physician Kathryn Mannix sees death on a nearly daily basis, which has given her a familiarity with this natural process that today is shared by few. Here she shares her experiences in the hope that readers can approach death with dignity and see the beauty amidst the sorrow in the final step taken in every human life.

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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