Books, books, books! I love books! I love all kinds of books, fiction and non-fiction, big and little, fat and thin..
Books tell stories about life. They can enlighten our perspectives. They are enchanting, inspiring, encouraging, and accepting. They talk about the beauty, joy, sadness, and brutality of life. They can break your heart or lift you up to a place you need to go. Books can change you. And often, in our quest for some deep understanding, we will search out a book that will provide us with some answers or knowledge or comfort we didn’t previously have.
Books were constant companions to me after my daughter, Carolyn, died. I hoped I would read something that would help lessen my painful feelings.
I devoured the pamphlets the funeral director gave me on what to expect with my grief. I bought many books on grief and borrowed many from the library. I went online to The Dougy Center in Portland, Oregon (which offers support and various services) hoping to find something that would help me. My therapist friends made suggestions. I read everything I could find and searched for anything that I thought would help me.
Some books I read cover to cover; some only parts. Some were helpful and comforting, and others weren’t. I would read a book, find something helpful in it, and then go on to the next. Often I would go back to a book later, maybe months later, and find something else was helpful.
I learned that not everyone likes the same books. What might be comforting for me wouldn’t necessarily be helpful to another person. We all have to find our own sources for help.
Before Carolyn died (in 2003), I was aware of the “stages” of grief, but I really didn’t understand how they applied to me. True, not all experts agree on the stages of death, but the most common agreement is with Dr. Kubler-Ross’s perspectives: denial (shock and disbelief that the loss has occurred), anger (that someone we love is no longer here), bargaining (all the what-ifs and regrets), depression (sadness from the loss), and acceptance (acknowledging the reality of the loss). Some experts say that in addition to the stages, there are tasks to be completed as we struggle with the loss of a loved one: to accept the reality of the loss, to work through to the pain of the grief, to adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing, and to withdraw emotional energy from the deceased and move on with life. Coming through these tasks allows us to move on in life. That doesn’t mean we are finished with mourning, it only means we have come to accept that our loved one is gone and we can adjust to life without that person.
I watched myself go through these different ‘stages,’ some longer than others but I didn’t pass through them in order. I recognized that I was all over the place: I did not necessarily go through a stage, finish it, and move on to the next. I accepted Carolyn’s death, then was in shock that she had died, then angry with myself, feeling that I should have done something more to prevent her death, only to recognize that was out of my control. But grief is a core, existential pain and this pain came from something that was external to me, losing someone I loved. It can make one helpless, powerless, and lonely. I felt helpless. There was nothing that I could have done.
I’ve read many books dealing with loss through the years since Carolyn’s death. I continue to read these books. I have given some away, donated others. Kara has a library full of meaningful books that can be borrowed.
There were a few books that I found particularly helpful.
Life after Loss, Third Edition, by Bob Deits in 2000. This book deals with any kind of loss: death, divorce, job change and relocation. You will find ways of coping with major losses and resources for enabling yourself or others.
Finding Meaning, The Sixth Stage of Grief by David Kessler in 2019. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified the stages of dying in 1969. Dr. David Kessler worked with her many years later. Through the loss of his own son, he found it to be helpful to add a sixth stage to Dr. Kubler-Ross’s initial stages and that is finding meaning. Finding meaning is a way to honor your loss, whatever it might be, in any way that is meaningful to you.
Unattended Sorrow, Stephen Levine in 2005. This book explains that long after an initial loss has passed and the period of grieving has ended, an unattended sorrow lingers, with a host of physical, emotional, and spiritual maladies. It is a book that deals with recovering from loss and reviving the heart.
What I became aware of as I read anything on grief was that I was hoping I’d find something that would take my pain away. But as all grievers know, one has to go through all those painful feelings in order to let them go. You can’t be intellectual about your grief, you have to feel it. And that old saying makes a lot of sense, “you have to feel it in order to heal it.”