Grief and Loss Booklist

Grief, Loss and Death Essential Reading

These books are some of the most useful guides to death, grieving, and loss that I've found. These titles blend specificity with compassion and humor in a way that I've found very helpful in hard times.


Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. (2001)

For anyone who needs compassionate advice and ideas for starting to heal from loss. Dr. Wolfelt's 100 Practical Ideas books are absolutely essential reading. 
"When someone you love dies, you must express your grief if you are to heal. In other words, you must mourn. But knowing what to do with your grief and how to mourn doesn't always come naturally. This book offers 100 practical, here-and-now suggestions for helping yourself mourn well so that you can go on to live well and love well again. Turn to any page and seize the day by taking a small step toward healing." (jacket copy)
The first idea listed was an absolute epiphany for me in how to move from feeling helpless in my grief and loss to moving towards healing. Here it is:
"1. Understand the Difference Between Grief and Mourning. 
  • Grief is the constellation of internal thoughts and feelings we have when someone loved dies.
  • Mourning is the outward expression of grief.
  • Everyone who has the capacity to give and receive love grieves when someone loved dies, but if we are to heal we must also mourn.
  • Many of the ideas in this book are intended to help you mourn this death, to express your grief outside of yourself. Over time and with the support of others, to mourn is to heal."
Dr. Wolfelt leads the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is a prolific author on grief. He has an extensive list of 100 Ideas books specifically targeted to parents, adult children, siblings, friends, kids, teens, and much more. 


For absolutely anyone who is grieving, bereaved, suffered loss, or wants to understand someone who is doing so.
“Having experienced grief from both sides--as both a therapist and as a woman who witnessed the accidental drowning of her beloved partner--Megan writes with deep insight about the unspoken truths of loss, love, and healing. She debunks the culturally prescribed goal of returning to a normal, ‘happy’ life, replacing it with a far healthier middle path, one that invites us to build a life alongside grief rather than seeking it to overcome it.

Through stories, research, life tips, and creative and mindfulness-based practices, she offers a unique guide through an experience we all must face--in our personal lives, in the lives of those we love, and in the wider world.” (jacket copy)
From the introduction:
“This book … encourages readers to see their grief as a natural response to death and loss, rather than an aberrant condition needing transformation. By shifting the focus from grief as a problem to be solved to an experience to be tended, we give the reader what we most want for ourselves: Understanding, compassion, validation, and a way through the pain.”

See also Devine’s website Refuge in Grief, which she created to “tell the truth about grief, with no sugar coating,” with resources divided into “I’m Grieving” and “Someone I Know Is Grieving.” 


For anyone who has experienced a loss and want to heal but also understand their own experience. It’s also an excellent resource for someone who wants to understand a loved one’s pain, or prepare for an expected loss.
“Julia Samuel, a grief psychotherapist, has spent twenty-five years working with the bereaved and understanding the full repercussions of loss. This deeply affecting book is full of psychological insights on how grief, if approached correctly, can heal us. Through elegant, moving stories and Julia Samuel’s brilliantly accessible and practical wisdom, Grief Works helps us stop feeling awkward and uncertain about the complexities of death and move toward talking honestly and openly with family and friends when support is needed. This extraordinary handbook shows us how to live, learn, and in time, grow from great loss." (jacket copy)
This book includes case studies of grief based on real people’s experiences, grouped by the relationship of the individual with the person who has died. Although the case studies in this book are framed by Samuel’s counseling relationship with each individual, the focus is on the grief rather than the therapy.

From the introduction: 
“To grieve we must find a way of enduring the pain of the loss, not fighting or blocking it, and for that we need support--the love and support of our family and friends; and we need to understand what the process entails.”

For anyone who wants practical, detailed, realistic advice on preparing as much as they can for their own or a loved one’s death, whether it be imminent or still blessedly theoretical.
“When it comes to death, we are all beginners. This is why one of the leading hospice and palliative medicine doctors in the country and an experienced caregiver and journalist teamed up to guide you, your friends, and your family through the unfamiliar to-do lists and the emotional and medical choices that often overwhelm us. The guide begins well before a diagnosis and ends well after the memorial." (jacket copy)
From the Introduction titled This is Not Life Interrupted. This is Life:
“It’s natural to arrive at this subject with some trepidation. We all do. In fact, we should caution you that reading through this book, or even just picking it up, might trigger difficult emotions. It certainly did for us while writing it. No one is asking that you give up the fear of death, but with the guidance of those you meet in this book, you might find that it fades or softens. Our ultimate purpose here isn’t so much to help you die as it is to free up and much life as possible until you do.”
Advice for Future Corpses* A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying by Sallie Tisdale (2018)  (* And Those Who Love Them)

For anyone who is ready for a realistic guide to death and dying combined with copious and surprising amounts of compassion.
“Informed by her many years working as a nurse, with more than a decade in palliative care, Tisdale provides a frank, direct, and compassionate meditation on the inevitable. From the sublime to the ridiculous, Tisdale leads the reader through the peaks and troughs of death with a calm, wise, and humorous hand.” This book is “more than a how-to manual or a spiritual bible: it is a graceful compilation of honest and intimate anecdotes based on the deaths Tisdale has witnessed in her work and life, as well as stories from cultures, traditions, and literature around the world.” (jacket copy)
Sallie Tisdale is a Pushcart Prize-winning author, a nurse and end-of-life educator, and a Buddhist practitioner and teacher. This book is a gentle, but clear-eyed exploration of dying and death. Chapter Four on Communication is a necessity for anyone who is a visitor or companion to the dying.

Dead People Suck: A Guide for Survivors of the Nearly Departed by Laurie Kilmartin (2018)

For anyone who is ready for a funny, truthful and irreverent book about death and loss. As Kilmartin writes: "If someone gave you this book too early, I apologize. Hopefully it's the hardback edition so you can hit them with it."

From the intro: 
"This book is not about a young death or a tragic death, those waters are too deep. this book is about old people dying, as expected, of old people causes. Specifically, it's about cancer, hospice, funerals, grief, well-meaning friends, and how shocking it is to be parentless, for the first time, at 48." 
With chapters titled: "Are You an Old Man with Daughters? Please Shred Your Porn," "Hospice: A Medical Term That Means 'Here, You Do It,'" and "When Oncologists Say, 'Not the Results We Were Hoping For,' They Mean 'Bye-Bye, '" this is a great addition to the essential bookshelf about grief. Kilmartin, a writer for Conan O'Brien, wrote this book after experiencing the death of her 82-year-old father. Even with all the hilarious irreverence, there's still some incredibly poignant moments, such as the chapter: "And Now, Your Future is Full of People Who Will Never Meet Your Mom." Kilmartin's suggestion: Hold a Mandatory Seminar about Your Loved One. With a follow-up quiz, of course.

It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool too) by Nora McInerney Purmort (2016)
"Twenty-seven-year-old Nora McInerny Purmort bounced from boyfriend to dopey 'boyfriend' until she met Aaron--a charismatic art director and comic-book nerd who once made Nora laugh so hard she pulled a muscle. When Aaron was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, they refused to let it limit their love. They got engaged on Aaron's hospital bed and had a baby boy while he was on chemo. In this deeply felt and deeply funny memoir, Nora gives her readers a true gift--permission to struggle, permission to laugh, permission to tell the truth and know that everything will be okay.” (jacket copy)
See also McInerney’s popular podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking: “You know how when someone asks "How are you?" you just say "Fine,” even if you’re totally dying inside, so everyone can go about their day? “Terrible, Thanks For Asking” is the opposite of that. Nora McInerny asks real people to share their complicated and honest feelings about how they really are. It’s sometimes sad, sometimes funny, and often both.” (from Apple Podcasts)

Recommended for: Nora McInerney says it best on her back cover:
“This book is for people who have been through some shit or have watched someone go through it. This is for people who aren’t sure if they’re saying or doing the right thing (you’re not, but nobody is). This is for people who had their life turned upside down and just learned to live that way. For people who have laughed at a funeral or cried in a grocery story. This is for everyone who wondered what exactly they’re supposed to be doing with their own wild and precious life. I don’t actually have the answer, but if you find out, will you text me?”

 

Suggestions, questions, comments? Send a note to inthelandofloss@gmail.com.