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When I was young I heard people say that one of the worst pains a person could experience was childbirth. I think of the working hours before my son was born and I conclude that the pain of grief is worse. When I was having contractions, I could point to part of my body and say, “Here. Take the pain away from here. “The anesthetist showed up at the 20th hour (I tried to go without an epidural but couldn’t). The medicine went in and the pain was mostly gone. There’s nowhere to point with sadness . It is a pain that soaks you completely, makes your limbs and head heavy, too heavy to carry. And the sting of sadness doesn’t stop; it sleeps, becomes calm enough to be forgotten from time to time until it reappears with a song, an intersection, a park, a dream or a corner of your house that you forgot to look at with eyes from the past.
The year of magical thinking by Joan Didion
“In difficult times from childhood I had been educated, read, studied, worked on it, went into literature. Information was control, ”writes Joan Didion in the year of magical thinking, a reminder of the year after the loss of her husband. This book is considered one of the best books on grief because, while it is a personal account of Didion’s process of accepting the loss of her husband, it describes the familiar illusion of expecting the lost loved one to come in through the door at any point in time . When someone we love dies, we live in an alternate reality where time is non-linear and everything seems possible. Didion captures this feeling with originality and with agile observations.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine
In times of loss, I often turn to the Stoics, particularly William B. Irvine’s Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, in which Irvine refutes misconceptions about stoicism and shares valuable teachings from ancient philosophers. This book isn’t just about ways to deal with grief. In fact, dealing with the end of life is only one chapter, but the general philosophy behind these pages is the importance of showing appreciation for what we have and managing the loss when those we love leave. “It may seem paradoxical,” writes Irvine, “but a coherent philosophy of life, be it stoicism or some other philosophy, can make us more accepting of death.”
Obit by Victoria Chang
It helps to know that other people have overcome what feels impossible. There are many children’s books on the subject, but one of the best adult grief books is Obit by Victoria Chang. Obit is good company when you have to look pain straight in the face. After her mother died, Chang wrote obituaries for what she had lost. The necrologies are for objects, a blue dress, her mother’s teeth; for earlier versions by Victoria Chang herself; for the frontal lobe of her father’s brain and Chang’s mother. This book is a beautiful collection of poems about everything that leaves when a loved one is gone. The poems name the void that has been left behind, and it is a void full of questions, wonder and appreciation for what could have been, for what will not be and what was.
Men we harvested from Jesmyn Ward
After Jesmyn Ward lost five men she knew well, including her brother, she questioned the circumstances surrounding such losses. Men We Reaped is a powerful reminder that shows how the racism and economic struggle that Ward’s brother and friends experienced contributed to the loss of their lives.
More recently, in September 2020, Vanity Fair published an article by Jesmin Ward entitled On Witnesses and Answers: A Personal Tragedy Followed by a Pandemic. It’s a sharp account of the loss of her husband to Ward, in which she also talks about how the BLM movement breathed life into her eyes in desperate times of grief. You glazed my face. “
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Keeping Moving: Tips on Loss, Creativity, and Change By Maggie Smith
Many of the best books about grief were published in 2020. One of those books is Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change by Maggie Smith. After their divorce, Smith wrote daily notes as a reminder to keep moving. These memories encouraged her to appreciate the life around her and the possibility of new beginnings. Keep Moving houses the notes Smith wrote during this difficult time, as well as short essays. This is the kind of book that can be opened on any page, any day, to find words of encouragement and solidarity.
Over time, the waves of sadness caused by loss are less frequent. Or at least, as a friend recently told me, we eventually accept that grief may not leave us entirely, a sign of all the love it represents, but it can coexist with the joy of memories.
After all, the corners of the house that we sometimes see with eyes from the past remind us of happy times and precious moments. After all, as Maggie Smith says, we keep moving.