Can reading help you cope with grief?

Reading through grief

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis is like that warm and gentle arm around your shoulders telling you everything you feel in your darkest moments of grief is OK.” This was a quote from a book review I wrote many years ago having lost my mother.

On my ‘human’ level I felt her death as the ultimate abandonment, yet on a spiritual level, I knew her soul returned to Source and could never die – only transform. In spite of this belief, the feeling that something had been taken, that should not have been taken, was a raw sore that burned so painfully back then.

To read the beautiful words of C.S. Lewis as he journaled his way through the grief of losing his wife, was to join with him in something so personal, yet so universal. The death of a loved one.

C.S. Lewis observed every facet of his own grief and wrapped it in a beautiful gift of words. For me it is the ultimate example of ‘healing grief through writing’ as well as a beautiful companion as I walked through my own personal experience of grief.

The early days

While I am a strong advocate for using literature to heal, don’t be surprised if, in the early days of grief, you are unable to read lengthy books. One of my clients told me the that she couldn’t concentrate on anything more than an article here and there at first. As for the fiction I recommended, she would start and then she would find herself in a place where she couldn’t remember what she had read on the last page, or the names of the characters.

She told me she didn’t actually want to get to the end of any of the books I had prescribed because it gave her the sense of an imminent ‘ending’ that she just wasn’t ready to deal with. Endings are painful. In fact, it caused her anxiety when she realised she was getting near the end of a book. If you are someone who has enjoyed reading, you will understand that feeling when you finish a great book – you do feel bereft now you are no longer in that world or with these characters, so I totally understood where she was coming from – especially when adding her own grief into the mix.

With this in mind you may find you are just dipping into books, or partially reading some as and when you feel – this is still going to be of benefit to you so don’t get too hung up in trying to finish something if it’s too much.

I also recommend giving Poetry a place in your reading list. Poetry is magical because there is real significance in every word – in every small part – and if you enjoy words you will get some comfort from a few carefully choses poems.

Benefits of reading about grief or death

Some of the best books on death and grief are by those who have suffered a great loss and have their own personal experience to share. These books help us to feel less alone – and remind us that grief is a universal experience. Sometimes in the depths of our loss, it helps to know there many others who can empathise and know how we feel.

Books on grief, bereavement and loss, written by psychiatrists and psychologists, are aimed at helping us understand what is happening to us and they generally provide ways to work through our grief on a practical level. 

When we read about other people’s loss, it can help us to come to terms with our mortality and prepare us for the inevitable. Having a strong belief system helps in this regard too.

When we do suffer a bereavement, reading about how others have come to terms with their losses can be very useful in finding our own way through our grief journey.  These books can give us hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that we can learn to live with our sorrow.  

If you are suffering right now, or wish to understand the suffering of someone close, why not start with a copy of
“A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis.

In addition to this, when you feel ready, I have put together a list of books I recommend to assist you as you move through grief.

Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief (Non-fiction) by Pauline Boss

Grieving: How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies (Non-fiction) by Therese Rando

Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow (Non-fiction) by Judith Viorst

When Breath Becomes Air (Memoir) by Paul Kalinithi

The Year of Magical Thinking (Memoir) by Joan Didion

Tuesdays with Morrie (Message-driven narrative) by Mitch Albom
One of Write from Source’s favourites

When Things Fall Apart. Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
Perfect gift for the spiritual library.

If you are interested to learn how literature can help you move through grief, do get in touch. Write from Source can provide a list of recommended titles that are uniquely tailored to your needs.

In October 2021, Write from Source will launch its mini-module ‘The iridescence of grief- a compassionate companion’ for those who are looking for a structured approach or some guidelines on where to even start processing that grief through writing. There are some beautiful exercises in the module, designed to help you navigate this time of your life where you have journeyed inward, and every moment is filled with a deeper meaning.

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