Reading Books on Grief

Grief is often a lonely, misunderstood walk. “Secondary” wounds – in addition to the deep grief of losing a loved one – can cause even more agony. I have seen, from this side of the fence, how misunderstood the bereaved and the grieving process can be, especially when it comes to the death of a child. Since Jason died, I have often thought that it might be helpful to have an information/awareness program about grief. You know, one of those nationwide, bring-attention-to, promote-understanding, spotlight-a-cause type of programs.

To me, the solution for lack of understanding is education. I have envisioned helping those who were grieving by enlightening those surrounding the griever – how to help, what to say, what not to say, how long it takes, and generally raising awareness of what to do so the griever is not left alone. I have envisioned an encouraging resource for the bereaved – making tools and resources available to the griever, encouraging support for the griever, recommending books to read, and many other ideas, too huge to voice right now, that are tucked away in my heart and brain.  Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I have a huge vision of how I would like to help bereaved parents. My heart goes out to those who deeply grieve. I would like to help those who grieve if I could.

Promoting understanding – that’s why I decided to write this blog. Since I am a very private person, writing this blog (and sharing my heart and life) was not a decision I took lightly. I weighed my own concerns against a possible greater good and came to the decision that the only way to give some insight into life after the death of a loved one is for those who have “been there” to openly talk about their experiences. Books and blogs seem a logical step.

However, I am beginning to wonder if it’s one of those “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” type of things. You can write books and blogs about grief experiences, but you can’t make people read them and understand unless they really want to. People turn away from grief. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to try to understand.

I know, I know. That people turn away should be obvious, especially concerning such a difficult topic as grief. No one really wants to discuss grief unless they have to or unless they’ve been there. No one wants to delve into understanding the grief process “just because” or “just in case.” No one wants to think about losing a loved one, particularly a child. No one wants to think about death – either their own (how many people avoid making a will?) or the death of someone they know and love. Absolutely no one wants to think or talk about the death of a child.

I wrote recently in response to an article questioning the need for so many books and blogs on the topic of grief ( The author of the article felt that grief should be private and that there were too many books and blogs written about grief. I beg to differ. To me, these are tools that can promote understanding.

A couple of days ago, I read a blog reviewing the book The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion ( The book is written by a woman whose husband died in 2003 and about her life following his death. Although the blog’s author states that she feels Ms. Didion is a “talented writer,” that the writing is “very eloquent,” and that the author is “restrained” concerning her grief, the blogger said she would “cautiously recommend” it. The blogger said that she is unable “to connect with her [Ms. Didion’s] feelings on any level” and that she sometimes felt that she “just didn’t want to pick up the book…because I knew that such a sad matter might reflect upon my own mood.” When she finished the book, she said she “longed for something light hearted (sic) or escapist to read.” When I asked regarding the cautious recommendation (whether it was because of the technical/medical terms or the book’s sad content), the blogger answered that her caution “would definitely be due to the upsetting nature of the book.”

“Upsetting nature of the book” – the book was written about grief. Wanting to read something “lighthearted or escapist” when finished – the blogger wanted to avoid the topic because it might affect her mood. She wanted to escape the downer that grief is by moving onto something light to read. My first thoughts on reading those words were, “What about the people whose lives these books and blogs represent? They can’t just move on to something else a little more lighthearted. They can’t so easily dismiss their grief in order to improve their mood. They can’t just escape their lives. Those books and blogs represent someone’s actual reality – the forever reality of the authors’ lives.”

I’m sure the blogger is very earnest in her review, and that she meant no disrespect. She seems like a very nice person. But, it just made me stop and ponder. As many wonderful books and blogs that have been written on the subject of grief, do “outsiders” – those who have not personally experienced great loss and deep grief – actually take the time read them? If non-bereaved do read the books or blogs, do they set the whole thing aside once they’re done – out of sight, out of mind – in order to move onto something lighter that won’t bring them down or affect their mood in a negative way? Do they try to understand? Do they see the lives and loss represented in those words? Do they see the hearts bared in an effort to promote understanding? Or do they just turn away?

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

8 thoughts on “Reading Books on Grief

  1. Rebecca,

    I appreciate your bringing your thoughts and feelings about grief back into the present. As I’ve read your journal writings from the time right after your son’s death, I’ve wondered how you’re doing today, with some distance from the event.

    I’m finding the same thing myself; when I write an upbeat blog about how I’m coping well, and accomplishing this and that, I get lots of supportive comments, but when I try to write about the dark side of how I’m feeling when grief whacks me on the head, I tend to get a lot of… silence… in response.

    For most people who aren’t in this situation, thinking about this stuff, or having someone describe what it’s like to be in the middle of it, is SCARY. It’s ugly and unpleasant, so we turn away. That’s unfortunate, because if we could somehow begin to get used to the idea, even as an abstract concept, perhaps it wouldn’t be quite so awful when we — each and every one of us — have to experience it for ourselves.


    • You’re right, Lori. I know it’s scary…and uncomfortable. It’s only been in the last 50 or so years, though, that the bereaved have had to take their grief “underground.” It used to be so much more a part of life; the bereaved were acknowledged and allowed time to grieve. These days, the push is for “getting back to normal” or “getting over it.” We are so much more detached and have such unrealistic ideas concerning grief.

  2. “Forever reality” really hit me. January will be three years since my brother’s accident, and although things have pretty much transitioned into a new sort of normal, it still feels like an alternate reality, the one I’m not supposed to be in. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  3. I agree. In my process of grieving my mother’s death, which I have said does not compare to the death of a child, but is, nonetheless, grief, I have learned that I’ve been grieving my entire life. First for the father that I never got to know. For what my stepfather stole from me and my family. For my mother being unable to protect. For the death of a dream, infertility. For the death of my grandmother I didn’t visit in her last years. For the death of two marriages. The death of my mother. And now the death of a family. Grief is all around us, whether we lose a child, or never lose anyone. Everyone we know is touched by grief. Friends who have aging parents they must care for. People with children with life-threatening disease. Loss of jobs. Loss of youth. Loss of a sense of all-is-well that permeates our country. We are in denial if we think we can escape grief. I understand your dream, Becky, which is why after mom died I did what I didn’t think I’d do…write about my grief and hope that someone would learn something. Keep writing.

  4. I appreciate your blog & your willingness to share. I have heard this quote, not sure of its origination, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. Your writings have helped me in a variety of ways. Thank you.

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