Grieving? Check out These Five Books in 2019.
My favorite grief-related page-turners for grievers and the people who love them.
I became a voracious reader after my mom died in 2013. Books, which I’d mostly ignored after the “required reading years” of high school and college became my source of comfort, inspiration, and helpful tools in the midst of my grief. I continue to read grief books because no two losses are alike — and everyone “does grief” a little differently.
The stories of others hold tremendous power for those of us in the unknown waters of grief. They console, relate, and remind… that we are not alone.
Below are the best grief books I read in 2018. Add them to your list this year if you or someone you love is grieving.
5. You Are Not Alone by Debbie Augenthaler
I host quite a few grief authors on my podcast Coming Back. Most of them send along their books as both a gift and an interview reference and Debbie Augenthaler’s book You Are Not Alone instantly struck my heart. Its collection of stories, grief wisdom, and poetry was unlike any other grief book I have read and her fearlessness surrounding topics like dating and sex, facing low energy and physical burnout, and food in the months and years following her husband’s sudden death were both heartwarming and blisteringly transparent. Debbie’s chapter entitled Cinnamon Toast was by far my favorite, as it resonated with my own struggle to eat again after the death of my mother.
Bottom line: A powerful, personal collection of journal entries and spirit wisdom for those facing life after loss.
Find You Are Not Alone here.
Listen to my interview with Debbie Augenthaler on Coming Back here.
4. H Is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
Award-winning book H Is for Hawk is a wild look at MacDonald’s life after the death of her father. In it, falconer MacDonald sets out to train a goshawk, and alongside her study aligns herself with the precarious and emotionally fraught falconry of T.H. White (who wrote The Goshawk decades prior). Intertwined with both authors’ hawking journeys are glimpses of the man MacDonald’s father was in life and how she interacts with his memory postmortem. This book is a lush, dense, often dark look at the craziness, isolation, and wildness grievers feel in the aftermath of loss. MacDonald often devotes entire chapters to the solitude goshawk training requires, holing up at home or venturing to nearby fields to fly her hawk alone. Other times, H Is for Hawk paints beautiful, haunting pictures of the English countryside with all of its life, sun, plants, and energy. While reading, I found myself constantly looking up words and locations I didn’t recognize and becoming absorbed by the world MacDonald co-creates with her goshawk.
Bottom line: A wild commentary on the ancient, feral nature of grief with gorgeous, studied attention on life, love, and lost relationships (with a lot of falconry terminology to boot!).
Find H Is for Hawk here.
3. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I’ll be the first to admit that I cried throughout this entire book. This intense, gripping short read is an incredible glimpse of cancer from a doctor’s perspective — in a sudden role reversal where the doctor becomes the patient. When Breath Becomes Air was published posthumously in 2016 after Paul Kalanithi’s death from stage 4 lung cancer, and the awareness that I was reading a dead doctor’s accounting of his own death still gives me the shivers. It’s a tremendously intimate self-portrait of a man who I (and so many others) feel died far too soon.
Bottom line: A reflective, albeit heartbreaking account of a man’s one-on-one journey towards death and finality.
Find When Breath Becomes Air here.
2. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
If anyone asks me “How do you want to die?” I’ll give them this book. Tuesdays with Morrie is a beautiful portrait of the types of people we should be in the face of death — humorous, humble, honest, and open. Mitch Albom’s simple, poignant recording of his favorite professor’s final lessons made me laugh, cry, and everything in between. This is a book that forces those of us caught up in the whirlwind of the everyday to take the blinders off and ask ourselves, “Is this really WHO and HOW I want to be?”
I had the privilege of hearing Mitch Albom speak in Chicago in 2018 prior to picking up Tuesdays with Morrie and I could tell by the way he spoke that Morrie’s lessons were imprinted on him for a lifetime. It seems that Morrie Schwartz has that affect on people.
Bottom line: A perfect mixture of wise and hilarious insights on life’s central lessons as told by the lifelong student of a spirited, thoughtful, dying professor.
Find Tuesdays with Morrie here.
1. A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold
Sue Klebold’s words broke my heart over and over and over again. But I imagine that is her lived experience (and more) coping with life after her son was confirmed as one of two boys that conspired and executed the infamous Columbine Massacre. Depression, murder, and suicide were nowhere to be found on Sue’s “mother-radar” pre-Columbine so everyday life as she knew it ended on April 20, 1999. A Mother’s Reckoning is the roller coaster ride no parent wants to be on, swinging wildly from disbelief to outrage to love to to pain to activism to shame to depression and round and round again. I couldn’t fathom the layers upon layers of grief that Klebold faced in the months and years following her son’s death. Not only was she grieving her son, his suicide, and his sudden categorization as “killer,” she was also grieving her friends’ children, her sense of privacy and protection, and her identity as a “good mother.” Dylan Klebold’s death and the way in which he chose to die transformed everything Sue knew to be true about his life — and hers. And A Mother’s Reckoning runs the full gamut of grief.
Bottom line: A severely in-depth analysis of the mind, heart, and spirit of the mother of a Columbine killer (and victim). A parent’s grief magnified — and then put under a microscope.
Find A Mother’s Reckoning here.
One thing I love about grief books that distinguishes them from other books in the bookstore (politics, cooking, celebrities, etc.) is that they are timeless. Grief has always happened and will continue to happen, so no matter how “old” a grief book is, its lessons, tools, and “me too” moments remain.
I hope you found a book on this list that resonates with your grief in this point in time. If you’d like to see what I’m reading in 2019, find me on Goodreads here.
For interviews with grief authors such as Megan Devine, Caleb Wilde, and Kerry Egan check out my podcast Coming Back: Conversations on Life After Loss wherever you listen to podcasts.
Do you have a favorite book that helped you grow through grief? Let me know in the comments below!