This winter, my family will think about and remember my dad on January 22, the day his earthly life ended with us one year ago. I’ve learned that grief is sacred, weird, and messy all wrapped up together. You can be fine one minute and the next you are completely flattened by sadness or just wishing you could hear that person’s voice just one more time.
My spiritual director reminded me that grief is like the ocean waves. It rolls in and out, sometimes more heavy and other times more light. She gently reminded me to let myself feel however I feel. If sad, then don’t hold back the tears and big emotions. If grateful, then feel grateful for the well-lived life my dad had. If peaceful, then smile remembering all the wonderful memories we shared. If we try to numb or ignore our grief, it will always come out sideways.
Last fall, before he died, I found myself beginning to proactively grieve my dad, even though he was with us a few more months. I began to pull together resources on grieving and read books that my heart needed as I and my family walked this final path with my dad.
Part of the human experience is knowing that death will touch each of our lives. All of us will someday die, and we will watch others we love suffer and die. It is something we cannot run away from, no matter how hard we try.
Among the books I read, some stood out as most helpful in my first year of grief, which I’m sharing in hopes they might support you or other people in your life dealing with grief and loss.
The Art of Losing: Poems on Grief and Healing by Kevin Young
Even if poetry is not typically your thing, this book may surprise you as it did me. An author friend of mine encouraged me to read this book and I am so glad she did. While I do not have a lot of experience with reading poetry, I found it speaking to me much more than I anticipated. The book was compiled following the author’s father passing away.
One thing I enjoyed was how the poems were divided into 5 different sections: Reckoning, Remembrance, Rituals, Recovery, and Redemption. Within these different sections, Kevin Young features the different ways we miss and lose our loved ones; including loss of parents, a spouse, children, siblings, friends, even strangers.
Turning My Mourning Into Dancing by Henri Nouwen
Henri Nouwen is easily one of the most loved and well-known spiritual teachers and authors of the twentieth century. He had a powerful way of speaking to people right where life found them. When I realized he had written a book that could accompany me in my own grief, I knew I wanted it, since his writings had spoken to me over the years.
In times of suffering and grief, easy and quick answers can sound hollow; but Nouwen offers comfort in the truth and hope of God. He suggests that by not running away and facing life’s pain with something other than despair, we can find surprising joy (even peace) in our suffering and loss. He powerfully suggests that the way through suffering is not in denial, but rather in living fully in the midst of whatever trials we face that life brings our ways.
This book can be good company for anyone facing sudden suffering or difficulty, as Nouwen is a great teacher for when life feels unmanageable.
It’s OK That You’re Not OK by Megan Devine
The title alone of this book drew me in. Often in today’s world, grief can be treated like a disease that needs to be cured as quickly as possible. Because grief is messy or makes us feel uncomfortable, we have to rush through it, because no one likes to feel uncomfortable.
Also known as @refugeingrief on Instagram, Megan Devine offers readers a new approach to both the experience of grief and the way we try to help others who have endured tragedy or loss. Losing her own partner to an accidental drowning, Devine writes openly about the unspoken truths of loss, love, grief, and healing. She also debunks the culturally prescribed goal of returning to a normal, “happy” life, instead of working to build a life alongside our unique grief rather than seeking to avoid or overcome it.
In contrast with a culture that is trying to solve the problem of grief and loss, Megan writes, “Grief no more needs a solution than love needs a solution.” I found her words to be a comforting guide for grieving people and those who love them.
At the end of the day, grief will look different for each of us, and it is not a linear experience. However, I do believe we can find comfort and support when loss touches our lives through meaningful books that help us heal, process, and grow.