Loss often has a profound impact on us, our emotions, our beliefs on life and sometimes changes us for ever.
Sometimes reading about others’ losses helps us understand our own. Below is a recommended reading list of books which are a must-read if you are grieving the death of a loved one.
If you'd prefer a more curated list, that's more tailored to your needs, interests and reading preferences you might find our Personalised Book Prescription helpful. You might also find it helpful to explore the complex feelings loss brings in a bibliotherapy session or learn self-bibliotherapy techniques for navigating loss in our online Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health course.
LOSS OF A SIBLING
The Sky is Everywhere (Fiction) by Jandy Nelson
A heart-breaking tale on the loss of a sister, this novel is a beautiful story about love and loss. The only person who understands her grief is her sister's boyfriend with whom she finds connection and meaning. Yet she's torn between him and a young man who enters the scene and steals her heart with his energetic approach to life and musical talent. Each gives her something that she needs - the need to grieve her sister's loss yet the hope to move on and find meaning and purpose in life again. A poetic book, it recognises the mixed feelings we so often experience on someone's loss, and expresses them articulately.
LOSS OF A PARENT
Jane Eyre (Fiction) by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre, whilst a novel, remains a beautiful fictional autobiography at heart recounting Eyre’s (the central character and heroine of the book) journey from a young girl, orphaned and raised by her abusive aunt to a woman who becomes a respectable governess and falls deeply in love, reinventing herself morally and spiritually. This book falls into the bereavement category due to Eyre’s resilient approach to life despite the losses and suffering she's endured as a little child post the death of her parents. Whilst you can't control unfortunate circumstances that life throws at you, you can control how you deal with these, standing up for yourself, being true to yourself and persevering conscientiously, through a series of life choices and important decisions until you achieve the freedom and love you deserve.
Eyre faced a difficult childhood of abuse, particularly when she lived with her aunt and attended Lowood academy. She learns to love life and natural beauty and lands herself a life-changing role as governess where she falls in love with the 20-years-her-senior, Mr Rochester. The initial friendship blossoms into romance and then love. However a dark secret means that she may also lose Mr Rochester… her strong spirit, morals and conscience are a role model for anyone dealing with life’s sorrows. A great read which may unleash tears – that in itself is therapeutic.
LOSS OF A PARTNER
Option B (Non-fiction) by Sheryl Sandberg
Sandberg’s ‘Option B’ is a powerful book on re-building life and resilience after devastating yet inevitable setbacks.
After the unexpected death of her husband, Sandberg went through a traumatic period, as she grieved with her children. Feeling a sense of emptiness and void, she struggled to find meaning, joy or happiness in anything again. Yet she's bounced back since and found meaning and joy in everything. She uses the analogy of building resilience as a muscle that you train and that is available to everyone to exercise, train and develop.
With the help of her Wharton-based psychologist, Adam Grant, Sandberg confesses in heart-breaking detail the grief, loneliness and sadness she felt on finding her husband lying on the gym floor, unconscious. Option B is Sheryl’s own journey through adversity and rediscovering the human spirit as she researches how people cope with and overcome extreme hardships including job losses, illness and the trauma of war.
When things don't go to plan, we can still thrive, through developing resilience, a strong external support network, meaningful relationships and the practice of appreciating our lives for what they are. This is known as Option B, a back-up plan, that allows us to grieve yet, enjoy life again and make the most of who we are, letting our spirit shine.
LOSS IN ALL ITS FORMS
The Mortality Shot (Essays, Stage Text) by Julia Lee Barclay-Morton
The Mortality Short poignantly brings home the striking ways grief manifests itself in death and how we process it. Through exquisite storytelling, it connected with me on multiple levels. As a bibliotherapist, we are all grappling with some form of loss, whether it's death, heartbreak, estrangement or any difficult life transition - here we have literature that mirrors these losses, makes us feel understood and allows us to look at and process grief in new and refreshing ways. Plus if you appreciate well-crafted literature then you're in for a treat! Morton elegantly explores essay, memoir and stage text to bring the themes of grief, loss, compassion, love and family in heartfelt and inventive prose and text.
Related recommended reading lists:
Consolation in times of sorrow
More book prescriptions can be found at Book Therapy.
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A big hello and thank you for reading! Passionate about literature, psychology, and life I launched Book Therapy as an alternative form of therapy using the power of literature. I train mental health professionals, librarians, teachers as well as readers on using bibliotherapy in their own work through our online Bibliotherapy, Literature and Mental Health course. We also curate reading lists/personalised book prescriptions for clients based on their individual needs. This is our signature personalised reading service.
You can also check out Book Therapy’s other free reading lists and A- Z of book prescriptions (covering both fiction and non-fiction). These suggest books based on your existing life situation (e.g. anxiety, job change, relationship heartache) as well as interests (e.g memoir, historical fiction, non-fiction, crime etc). There’s also a Children’s A — Z of Book Prescriptions. Feel free to check out the blog for more literary gems. There’s also a post on my personal story of how I entered the world of bibliotherapy and book curation.
In this role, I have had the opportunity to publish a book called The Happiness Mindset, and write various literary essays and pieces for newspapers and magazines. I have undertaken bibliotherapy workshops for The United Nations, various libraries in New York and corporate organisations in the UK and US. My book recommendations have featured in the Guardian, Marie Claire, NBC News, Asian Voice, New York Observer, Sydney Telegraph and various other publications. If you are a parent you might enjoy a podcast I’ve recorded with speech and language therapist Sunita Shah on Raising A Reader & Storyteller. And if you’d like to connect, email me at email@example.com or www.booktherapy.io.
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