These are some of my favorite books related to grief, loss, and caregiving. Check back often as I will continue to add to the list periodically.
Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen
This is my absolute, all-time favorite book about the path of grief for people of all ages. Grandy, an “old and somewhat wise woman” has just suffered a big loss. This is the story of how Grandy faces her loss by making tear soup. Sometimes alone and sometimes with the help of her friend, Midge, and her grandson, Chester, Grandy makes her soup slowly over the days and learns what makes her soup uniquely hers. She also has the help of her dog, a constant companion who is with Grandy on almost every page. Make sure you keep an eye on him to see what sweet things he is up to. (Sometimes he cries along with Grandy.) There are excellent “cooking tips” in the back of Tear Soup if you’re the cook, if your friend is the one making tear soup, soup making and time, if a child is the cook, if you are a male chef, and if two of you are cooking. A comprehensive list of resources concludes the book.
Touchingly written by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen and stunningly illustrated by Taylor Bills, Tear Soup is a must-have book for those who are grieving and/or anticipating a loss. Also wonderful is the video or DVD that is available through distributor Grief Watch. The DVD is narrated by actress Mary McDonnell (Dances with Wolves) and has a beautiful original score.
Order from www.griefwatch.com. ISBN: 0-96151-976-2
A Time to Grieve: Meditations for Healing After the Death of a Loved One Carol Staudacher
This little book, like The Grieving Garden mentioned below, is very much like a portable support group. Filled with common questions about grief with brief, insightful, compassionate answers, A Time to Grieve allows the reader to pick and choose what she wants to read when it is needed. This book was a true lifesaver for me and I highly recommend it as a gift for your friend or loved one who is grieving.
Harper One. ISBN:0062508454
Mary Oliver’s collection of 43 poems (2006) not only express her joy and wonder, as always, of her natural surroundings, but also gives voice to her grief after the death of her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook. We can all relate to Oliver’s experience in her poem, Percy (Four.) Simple, yet poignant verses about the daily experience of weaving grief in amongst the many tasks we must still do:
I went to church.
I walked on the beach and played with Percy.
I answered the phone and paid the bills.
I did the laundry.
I spoke her name a hundred times.
I knelt in the dark and said some holy words.
I went downstairs, I watered the flowers, I fed Percy.
Thirst is also the first collection by Oliver to address her burgeoning Christian faith, a process that will encourage those of the same faith and may challenge non-believers. Nonetheless, Thirst comforts as Oliver brings us all together in the experience of grief and loss.
Published by Beacon Press. ISBN: 0-80706-897-7
The End-of-Life Handbook: A Compassionate Guide to Connecting with and Caring for a Dying Loved One
David B. Feldman, Ph.D., and S. Andrew Lasher, Jr., MD, 2007
I was lucky enough to attend a seminar by Dr. Feldman where I received this book. Filled with practical advice, The End-of-Life Handbook is helpful and compassionate at the same time. The chapters take the reader all the way through the process, from the dizzying maze of dealing with medical issues, to questions about how the person will die, and the meaning of death and grief. Here are the topics: • Could the doctors be wrong? • Who are all these people? [in the medical system] • What treatments are available? • What can I do about my loved one’s pain and suffering? • Where will it happen? • How will it happen? • How should I be feeling? • What should I be saying? • What should I be doing? [for both practical matters and matters of the heart] • What is the meaning of it all? • Will I ever “get over” losing my loved one? I highly recommend this book for its gentle practicality and helpfulness.
New Harbinger Publications. ISBN: 1-57224-511-5
The Grieving Garden: Living with the death of a child. Twenty-two parents share their stories.
Suzanne Redfern and Susan K. Gilbert, 2008.
True to its billing, this fabulous book really is a “portable support group.” Redfern and Gilbert, who each lost a child themselves, have collected the stories of twenty-two parents who have experienced the death of a child. The format of the book is unique in that it is divided into parts related to the grief process and the contributors tell their stories around each theme. The description from the website really says it best: “This groundbreaking book invites bereaved parents into a personal conversation with a diverse group of fathers and mothers who share the same loss. The text is free of distracting and heavy-handed editorializing, “expert” opinion, and unwanted advice. Instead, readers are welcomed into a community of common understanding, one they may enter at will, at their own pace, for reassurance, healing, and hope.” www.thegrievinggarden.com This is another book I can’t recommend enough for people who have lost children to death. Remarkable and comforting.
Hampton Roads Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN:1-57174-581-1
The Book of Awakening: Having the life you want by being present to the life you have
Mark Nepo, 2000.
Ordinarily I’m not a fan of daily reading/meditation books. They’ve just never worked for me. However, the huge exception is this excellent work by Mark Nepo, a cancer survivor, poet, and philosopher. This book doesn’t speak specifically to grieving or caregiving, it is about living. I include it here because Nepo’s daily lessons are at once thought-provoking, comforting, spiritual, and practical. It brings solace to the grieving, relief to those giving care, and encourages all of us to live mindfully and with joy.
Please visit http://www.marknepo.com/books/awakening.htm for excerpts from the book.
Conari Press. ISBN: 1-57324-117-2
Living with the End in Mind: A practical checklist for living life to the fullest by embracing your mortality
Erin Tierney Kramp, Douglas H. Kramp, and Emily P. McKhann, 1998.
My late partner, Ruth, loved this book. It really helped her review and complete some of the practical issues around her eventual death, but there was much more to both this book and Ruth’s journey. Like Erin Kramp, who also lived with breast cancer, Ruth learned many of life’s important, loving lessons by embracing her own mortality. Part checklist and part inspiration, this is a superb book for those living with a serious or terminal illness and really is recommended for all of us who strive to live life rather than avoid death.
Three Rivers Press. ISBN:0-60980-381-6
On Death and Dying: What the dying have to teach doctors, nurses, clergy, and their own families
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, 1969.
Although this book is now forty years old and much of Kubler-Ross’s work has been debated, it is still a classic in the field and yields valuable information about the experience of dying. Kubler-Ross asked dying people what their experience was like and formulated the familiar Stages of Dying model: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. This model has also been applied to the experience of grief. Although we now know that both processes of dying and grieving are more accurately described as accomplishing “tasks,” On Death and Dying continues to be an important book. As described by Life Magazine, it is “a profound lesson for the living.”
Collier Books. ISBN: 0-02089-141-5
Close to the Bone: Life-threatening illness and the search for meaning
Jean Shinoda-Bolen, 1996.
Another favorite book of Ruth’s, Close to the Bone weaves myth, experience, and story in exploring the meaning in life-threatening illness. Shinoda-Bolen, the author of Goddesses in Everywoman, helps the reader travel the path of learning to embrace mortality and live a stronger, richer, more relational life because of it.
Simon and Shuster. ISBN: 0-68483-530-4
Mystic Cool: A proven approach to transcend stress, achieve optimal brain function, and maximize your creative intelligence
Don Joseph Goewey, 2009
I occasionally host author events at our local independent bookstore, Kepler’s in Menlo Park, and I was delighted to meet Don Goewey and his wife, Louise Franklin. This book goes beyond the usual books on stress to include neuroscience, psychology, and spirituality to both explain stress and provide remedies for it. Mystic Cool has some accessible, evocative exercises that will certainly lead to reduced stress and increased peace and joy. A great book and an easy read.
Beyond Words. ISBN 1-58270-227-6
Lessons for the Living: Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life
Stan Goldberg, 2009
Stan Goldberg, university professor and writer, talks about his many years as a hospice volunteer and the lessons he learned from being with people as they lay dying. Far from morose, the book not only teaches us about dying but also about how to live. The unique twist of the book is that Stan himself has cancer that will most likely result in an early death for him. His honest writing about thoughts of his death and life are both poignant and heartwarming.
Trumpeter Books (an imprint of Shambhala Publications). ISBN 1-59030-676-5
The Art of Resilience: 100 Paths to wisdom and strength in an uncertain world
Carol Orsborn, 1997.
Although published in 1997, Carol Orsborn’s writing is more than pertinent to today’s ever-changing economic, political, and social climate. The book is organized into 10 stages which are in a progression, from the initial shock of impact, through both short-and long-term stages of recovery (p.8). Within each stage, Orsborn draws on wisdom from the stories of ordinary people, herself, and ancient philosophers to illustrate a path toward resiliency. It is an easy read and one immediately feels that Orsborn is a kindred spirit; she understands at the bone level the devastation which loss and adversity brings.
Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-609-80061-2