There is a reason the best books on grieving continue to be beloved books for people even long after they’ve been published. Grief is an experience we all face at one time or another, but because we all grieve differently, we can’t assume we know how someone else feels as they are grieving.
Books on grieving–or books that focus on one person’s experience of grief–can help us understand grief as a human experience, rather than an individual hardship. Just as some people read to experience lives they’ll never live (like being a fighter pilot in WWII or a princess in distress or a vampire named Lestat, for example), others read to understand how people cope with various real-life experiences.
Best Books on Grieving
Books on grieving can be of any genre. Some novels, though fictional, draw us into worlds of characters so realistic and touching that we feel as if we know them and through their experiences, we come to a deeper understanding of what it means to move in the world. Memoirs often do the same.
Non-fiction books about grieving don’t focus on stories as much as they give us a framework from which we can better understand. Non-fiction books are researched and objective, and their tone often reflects that. Novels and memoirs are often written in a more casual, conversational tone than non-fiction books.
Books about grieving can also be specific when it comes to the relationships of the people involved. For instance, there are books about grieving a spouse, books for grieving parents, books for grieving a child, books for grieving mothers, and books on grieving a parent. The specificity of these books can help someone in a similar situation.
How Books Can Help You Grieve
Books Provide an Escape. Sometimes we don’t want to face the hardships of our own lives anymore. When that happens, we can watch a movie, binge-watch a TV show, or get lost in the pages of a book. When someone is grieving, they might want to read a story about how someone else dealt with grief or they might want to escape to a world that is far away from their own.
Either way, spending time with a book can help us take our minds off of our own pain and focus on the lives or stories of others, if even for only a short time.
Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while. —Malorie Blackman
Books Remind Us that We Are Not Alone. When we read a book that feels familiar to us, we are reminded that we are not the only people who have, or will ever, experience the grief we feel. When we see people (either real people in a memoir or fictional characters in a novel) in the pages of a book feeling the same things we are or doing the same things we do, we feel less alone and more like others might be able to understand what we’re going through.
Reading is a form of prayer, a guided meditation that briefly makes us believe we’re someone else, disrupting the delusion that we’re permanent and at the center of the universe. Suddenly (we’re saved!) other people are real again, and we’re fond of them. —George Saunders
Books Can Teach Us Things. Non-fiction books can obviously teach us new things, like Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s book On Grief & Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. This book explains the stages of grief so we can better understand why we’re feeling what we’re feeling.
Reading is departure and arrival. —Terri Guillemets
How to Find Books About Grief
One of the best ways to find books about grief is to ask others what has helped them. PBS did this, as do therapists and bloggers. If you aren’t ready for a book, you can find blogs written by people who are grieving (like this one, written by a grieving mother, or one of these, written by grieving wives).
You can also visit your local library. A search for “grief” on the book cataloging site Bibliocommons (which is what most libraries use to organize their collections) produces more than 5,000 lists. By filtering with different search terms, such as “books for grieving parents” or “books for grieving spouse,” you’ll be able to narrow down the list.
Once you’ve landed on a manageable list, you’ll be able to click through each title to read a summary and (sometimes) reviews from others who have read the book. By scrolling down the page, you can see which other lists that book has been on, as well as recommended “read-alike” books.
If this sounds like a lot of work, you can ask the librarian at your local library to recommend different titles for you.
Write Your Own
There are times that no matter how good or how appropriate a book might be, what you really need is to write your own feelings down. When that’s the case, there are myriad ways to do that.
You can just grab a notebook and a pen and write. Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation or your handwriting. Just write what comes to mind.
Try to not stop until you’ve filled three pages. This is a practice made popular by Julia Cameron in her book The Writers Way. She calls them morning pages. Revered by writers and creatives for years, the practice is also a helpful way to process our feelings because it helps us get what’s in our heads out, so we can think more clearly.
You can also find prompts online that might help you start writing.
Or, you could gift yourself a grief journal.
No matter what you choose–to read, to write, or both–try to stick with it. It takes time to create a new habit, and it might be harder for someone who is grieving to focus. Be gentle with yourself. Let the reading or writing serve you, rather than the other way around.
There are no “shoulds” here, only potential ways to work through grief.
Do you have books you recommend to your loved ones when they need comfort, direction, or validation? We’d love to hear about them.