Grief, Widowhood and Books
Unsurprisingly, I’ve collected a large number of books on grief over the years. My brother died six years ago and my favourite Aunt died two weeks before Dan died. Sadly, I’m a grief veteran. I’m not brave, I’m not inspirational…I am merely putting one foot in front of the other, with the help of my family and friends online and offline. I have moments when I am deeply angry that we as a family have had to endure so much loss…so yeah…not inspirational. I have found so much wisdom, solace and comfort in books on grief – both for myself and for my children. When I wrote about my grief at six months here I recommend some books…now I have more. Always more when it comes to books.
The anniversary of Dan’s death has just passed, I’ve hit my ‘expiry date’ for polite and socially acceptable grief and I’ve now been a widow for just over a year. I’ve not yet found a better term, so I’ve decided to own the word widow, because I definitely don’t feel single but I sure as anything am no longer part of the ‘those who are married’ club. I’m stuck somewhere in between in no mans land…I am a widow. I discovered recently that there is an International Widows’ Day. I know. Took me a while to get my head around it too. Since 2011, the United Nations General Assembly has observed International Widows’ Day on 23 June each year, bringing awareness to the situation of widows of all ages and across regions and cultures. My version of widowhood is vastly preferable (despite how awful my version still feels) to many; my first world experience of being a widow is nothing in comparison to those living in poverty and fear for their life and the lives of their children. All things considered, I am fortunate.
And yet it still feel so awful, relentless and lonely. When my brother passed away, Dan and I shed friends, having only the time and energy for those who could cope with our grief. Grief requires you to hunker down and baton the hatches and it takes every ounce of energy just to exist – but it’s also incredibly lonely. Anna Fienberg eloquently describes the loneliness of grief in this post here when she says; Bereavement and loss are perhaps the loneliest of experiences. Grief can drag you off to an island at the edge of the world, making you feel separate from the human race – how can those others on the mainland be carrying on with their lives, singing in the shower, going out for dinner, as if the world hasn’t stopped? Stubbornly you refuse invitations, needing to stay marooned. There’s no extra energy to move, only enough to guard your obsession, protect your sadness. And yet you are lonely.
Grief makes many people feel incredibly uncomfortable and I understand that, sometimes my anger and my grief are so palatable that I’m surprised anyone still talks to me. I find family events, weddings and celebrations unbearable at times, I can be totally fine and brave and ‘I can do this’ and then five minutes later be crying in a toilet and looking for an escape. For some people it’s just easier to stay silent and not join you on your island, and that’s okay, it’s the way it is and some friendships are for a season. Widowhood leaves you alone in the most awful of ways; the one person whom you most need to talk to about your grief is also the person you are grieving. I find myself in a space where people don’t know what to do with me and I don’t blame them; I don’t know where I fit either. My lack of husband is awkward for the table arrangements at a dinner party, couples we used to dine with don’t invite me anymore, people don’t know if they should mention Dan lest it upset me (FYI you should, it lets me know he is not forgotten) and many of the single people I know are divorced and don’t have a very high opinion of men. Of course the crux of the issue is that I’ve got no time to do anything social anyway, because I now work extraordinary hours and my children are at ‘that age’ where all I do is drive them to sporting events and social outings…and they are also grieving. I don’t get every second weekend off from my children and my family and friends are wonderful but I’ve called in so many babysitting favours that it is now just embarrassing. And actually? My children want eyes on me – and who can blame them – one parent died in the night, they are keeping a close eye on the other one. Emma Grey, one of the wisest widows I know, wrote this beautiful article recently on being ‘technically single’ – I keep re-reading it (I must be doing wonders for the Kidspot online numbers at the moment!) as its just everything I feel.
And yet still I am fortunate. I have people who love and care for the girls and I and I know I could call on any of them at the drop of a hat. It’s really hard to ask for help but grief makes you work on that. We are very loved and I so deeply grateful for what we have. It’s just that its still really lonely. And odd. Widowhood is odd.
So the books below are the ones that have really resonated with me and I’d highly recommend them to anyone who has experienced grief, and for children who have lost a loved one. It’s probably fairly obvious which are the titles for children, but just in case, the top five are for adults and the bottom eight are for children (and adults like me who refuse to give up picture books because they are often more powerful than adult books). Each of these titles has soothed a small piece of my soul. ‘The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement’ by Virginia Lloyd is a remarkable memoir and would make the perfect ‘read and discuss’ for book clubs. Lloyd is an accomplished writer and while her grief is woven throughout, the story is universal, and at times remarkably funny. Highly recommended and I’ve purchased six copies of it now as I keep giving my own copy away. ‘Option B’ by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant is essential reading. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebooks COO, lost her husband very suddenly and while essentially this is a book on grief, it is also about building resilience and moving though times of crisis. ‘Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying’ by Sogyal Rinpoche was given to me by a dear friend and fellow widow. While I believe Rinpoche himself is under somewhat of a cloud, this book is just astonishingly soothing (as most things Tibetan are I find!) and I regularly pick it up when I need to be reminded that how I feel is okay. If you have a friend recently bereaved ‘It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay’ is ESSENTIAL reading and makes the perfect grief book – yep a grief gift. It has an excellent chapter on how to support those who are grieving and the issues which will be faced with friends because ‘grief rearranges your address book’.
Books to Soothe a Grieving Soul
Click on title links to purchase individual books from Booktopia or you can click here to add all of them to your cart in one click
‘The Young Widow’s Book of Home Improvement’ by Virginia Lloyd, University of Queensland Press
‘It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay’ by Megan Devine, Sounds True Inc.
‘How to Heal a Grieving Heart’ by Doreen Virtue and James van Praag, Hay House Inc
‘Epic’ by John Eldredge, Thomas Nelson Publishers
‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan Didion, HarperCollins Publishers
‘Option B’ by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Ebury Publishing
‘Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying’ by Sogyal Rinpoche, Ebury Publishing
‘Courage’ by Bernard Waber, Houghton Mifflin
‘Life Is Like The Wind’ by Shona Innes and Irisz Agocs (Illustrator), Bonnier Publishing Australia
‘Lifetimes’ by Bryan Mellonie, Robert Ingpen, Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc
‘The Invisible String’ by Patrice Karst, DeVorss & Co ,U.S.
‘Shine’ by Trace Balla, Allen & Unwin
‘Life and I’ by Elisabeth Helland Larsen and Marine Schneider, Die Gestalten Verlag
‘Michael Rosen’s Sad Book’ by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake, Walker Books Ltd
‘Cry, Heart, But Never Break’ by Glenn Ringtved and Charlotte Pardi (Illustrator), Enchanted Lion Books
Millions of the world’s widows endure extreme poverty, ostracism, violence, homelessness, ill health and discrimination in law and custom, constituting some of the most serious violations of human rights and obstacles to development today. For more information visit the UN’s International Widows’ Day page here.