“You only miss one person, and the whole world is empty.”
As human beings we have a lot to lose. Too much, one might say. Death, heartbreak, miscarriage – all presented as facts of life, but when loss seeks you out and hits you, it’s deeply personal. People will ask you to put your grief into words, to explain how you feel, but is there anything harder to talk about than grief? Clichés and platitudes come from the mouths of loved ones, from your own, all a case of good intentions rendered meaningless by an inability to say what you want to say, or even know what to say. When things fall apart, the books stay true when our own ability to feel fails. Rather, the words of our favorite writers have the power to rock us. From Didion, Beech to Barthes, these titles testify to the resilience of the human spirit. So whether you’re grieving yourself, know someone who is, or just want to absorb the stories of those who have, take these 11 bereavement books as your companions.
The Year of Magical Thinking -Jeanne Didion
When the subject is grief, we all know Didion does it best. His voice, steely and down-to-earth, cuts through the insipid platitudes that threaten to suffocate at the mere mention of death. Through her own personal tragedies – the sudden death of her husband John Gregory Dunne and the hospitalization of her only daughter Quintana – Didion describes a near spiral of madness, oblivion and, as she calls it, ” magical thinking”. For the heavy hearted and those who have not yet been touched by loss.
A month in Siena -Hisham Matar
Hisham Matar was nineteen when his father was kidnapped on the orders of the Gaddafi regime. At the time, a student in London, he spent his lunch time quietly observing the works of the Sienese school in the National Gallery in London. After a last unsuccessful attempt to find his father 25 years after the fact, Matar makes the trip to Siena with the intention of staying there for a month. What follows is a sweet and beautifully compiled reflection on grief, art and the human spirit.
Notes on bereavement – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“Grieving is a kind of cruel upbringing,” Adichie writes. “You learn how unpleasant grief can be, how full of anger it is. You learn how flippant condolences can be felt. You learn how grief is tied to language, to the failure of language and language input. Written in the weeks and months following his father’s death, Adichie wields a language to describe the indescribable: the bitterness and cruelty of loss.
Crying in H Mart -Michelle Zauner
We all dread the death of our parents. Some of us even play it in our head as a sort of loss training camp. How would we react? To whom could we turn? But when you have a complicated relationship with your parents, grieving can feel like a minefield. Michelle Zauner writes with precision about her mother’s slow and traumatic death; about how, as a third culture kid, Korean cuisine connected Zauner to his culture, to his mother, and how it would become a way to keep his memory alive.
Mourning diaries -Roland Barthes
Roland Barthes will die three years after his mother Henriette. And while readers of his work will remember his book Camera Lucida: reflections on photography which briefly touched on his loss, as published shortly before his own absurd departure, it was his diary that would provide a more indelible portrait of the pain. Written on loose leaf with incomplete notes, Barthes’ diary of mourning was published posthumously in its incomplete and raw form echoing the very nature of the loss. Read it straight or please savor it, this slender volume is a real comfort.
On the mother -Sarah Ferguson
On the mother barely worth two hours of reading, but Sarah Ferguson covers a lot of ground. Following her mother’s death, she must travel the distance between Australia and England to ensure her mother’s dignity is respected and those who neglect to care for her are held accountable. .
Sunbath – Isobel Beech
After the loss of her father by suicide, Isobel Beech describes a period soon after spent in the mountains of Abruzzo. Invited to stay by her friends Giulia and Fab before their wedding, Beech lives simply, picking fruit in the orchard, bathing in the sun and sleeping in the birth room of the house. However, his surroundings are at odds with the dialogue going on in his head. Guilt, grief and regret engulf Beech, as she ravages her memories at all times, any interaction with her father that could be taken as a warning sign.
time is a mother – Ocean Vuong
Set in the dramatic aftershocks of his mother’s death, Ocean Vuong returns with another collection of poetry. With the nature of their relationship defined in On Earth, we are briefly beautifulhere Vuong continues where he left off, detailing his mother’s departure and exploring the importance of sitting in grief and learning to survive beyond.
An observed mourning – CS Lewis
Written as a way to avoid “crazy midnight moments”, An observed mourning is an unfiltered and honest reflection on death after the death of his wife Joy and the demise of joy itself. Even the most devout believers are shaken by grief. Or, as Lewis writes, “Nothing will shake a man, or at any rate a man like me, from his purely verbal thought and his purely theoretical beliefs. He must be knocked out before he can come to his senses. Only torture will bring the truth, only under torture will he discover it himself.
Sunset – Jessie’s Cave
From actor and now writer Jessie Cave. Sunset approaches grief from the perspective of two sisters. Polar opposites and yet inseparable, the two will be separated before either is ready following a disastrous vacation. The sister who remained standing, Ruth, thus slips into a self-imposed exile from the world. Faces blend together and with her new job at Heathrow Airport she can become virtually anonymous. It is from this moment that the story begins to take shape.
Heartbreak is the thing with Feathers -Max Porter
Max Porter lends his wits about grief with this condensed story about a father and his two sons following the death of their mother. Taking the title of a beloved poem by Emily Dickinson, Porter sets up the short story with Crow, the creation of father and literary scholar Ted Hughes who promises “I won’t leave until you need me”. Filled with dark humor but above all compassion, it’s a tale that will linger in you like the brutal pain of grief itself.
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