The best books for mourning

8 authors have picked their favorite books about mourning and why they recommend each book.

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Austen Years

By Rachel Cohen,

Book cover of Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels

“About seven years ago,” Rachel Cohen writes at the beginning of Austen Years, “not too long before our daughter was born, and a year before my father died, Jane Austen became my only author.” Weaving together memoir, biography, history, and literary criticism, Cohen draws upon five of Austen’s novels to make sense of her own life and work as she raises young children, moves across the country, and grapples with her father’s death. The result is a brilliant and beautiful reflection upon family and loss, isolation and transcendence, and reading and rereading.


Who am I?

In the wake of her father’s death, Katharine Smyth turned to her favorite novel, Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, as a way of wrestling with his memory and understanding her own grief. Her book about the experience, All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf, was published by Crown in 2019 and named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Smyth’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Elle, The New York Times, Literary Hub, Poets & Writers, and The Point.


I wrote...

All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf

By Katharine Smyth,

Book cover of All the Lives We Ever Lived: Seeking Solace in Virginia Woolf

What is my book about?

Katharine Smyth was a student at Oxford when she first read Virginia Woolf's modernist masterpiece To the Lighthouse in the comfort of an English sitting room, and in the companionable silence she shared with her father. After his death--a calamity that claimed her favorite person--she returned to that beloved novel as a way of wrestling with his memory and understanding her own grief.

Smyth's story moves between the New England of her childhood and Woolf's Cornish shores and Bloomsbury squares, exploring universal questions about family, loss, and homecoming. Through her inventive, highly personal reading of To the Lighthouse, and her artful adaptation of its groundbreaking structure, Smyth guides us toward a new vision of Woolf's most demanding and rewarding novel--and crafts an elegant reminder of literature's ability to clarify and console.

The Madness of Grief

By Richard Coles,

Book cover of The Madness of Grief: A Memoir of Love and Loss

He describes the death of his partner from alcoholism and the events leading up to it in an unflinchingly honest and moving way. It's raw and personal but that's what grief is. It's beautiful and respectful and shows how grief is both a shared experience and so completely individual at the same time. 


Who am I?

I'm the author of the best-selling books How to Tell Depression to Piss Off: 40 Ways to Get Your Life BackHow to Tell Anxiety to Sod Off: 40 Ways to Get Your Life Back, The Recovery Letters, and What I Do to Get Through. My sixth book will be, How to Smash Stress: 40 Ways to Manage the Unmanageable.


I wrote...

How to Get to Grips with Grief: 40 Ways to Manage the Unmanageable

By James Withey,

Book cover of How to Get to Grips with Grief: 40 Ways to Manage the Unmanageable

What is my book about?

This book is for anyone who has lost someone. It may have been recently, or it may have been years ago, but still it stings like it was yesterday. I've known the grief beast since I was five, when my dad died, and it has followed me ever since. In my twenty years of supporting people with their own grief, as a counsellor and social care worker, I have helped others work through their despair and reconcile the injustice of grief.

 With humour and warmth, I provide forty ways to help you live with and manage your grief no matter what stage you’re at. It provides comfort for when it all gets too much, ideas for when you feel at a loss for what to do, and more than a laugh or two to balance out the sadness.

Guesswork

By Martha Cooley,

Book cover of Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss

As I entered the strange new territory of grief and a solitary life after 37 years of an unconventional marriage, I found myself looking for solace from authors who could show me the way forward. Martha Cooley’s retreat to a small, medieval Italian village brought the first tentative smiles to my early months of grieving. My husband and I shared a love of Europe and stayed in our own medieval village in Tuscany just a few years before he died. Cooley used her retreat to deal consciously but gently with the many deaths she’d faced over a traumatic ten years, as well as the impending death of her mother. Her reflections related to mortality and carrying on after the loss of loved ones were a comfort as I began to confront the uncomfortable challenge of stepping into a new life without my husband and best friend. 


Who am I?

My mom handed me one of those little girl diaries with a lock and key when I was in third grade. I wrote my heart into those diaries until I needed more space and shifted to regular-sized notebooks. Writing is my way to know myself and make sense of my life. The journal I kept in the last months of my husband’s life helped me reassemble the trauma-blurred memories of his dying, and then, it supported my emotional rebirth during the year of intense grieving. It is with surprise and delight that I hear from readers who say I articulate their innermost emotions related to love and loss.


I wrote...

Life with an Impossible Person: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation

By Joan D. Heiman,

Book cover of Life with an Impossible Person: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Transformation

What is my book about?

A woman’s adventures, struggles, and abiding love for a most unorthodox man throughout a 37-year partnership. An idealist, romantic, and eccentric astrologer-poet, Heiman’s husband believed there were places in the world, where each of us is most likely to unfold and best nurture our souls. The book follows Joan and Philip in their search for their place on the planet, journeying from dream to dream, country to country, and finally to the untimely and heartbreaking death of this wonderfully impossible and beloved man.

Despite his tragic end, Philip was too loveably quirky for the book to be heavy or depressing. Heiman shares her story with pathos and humor, as well as offering reflections on the complex nature of loving, dying, grieving, and healing.

The Tree of Man

By Patrick White,

Book cover of The Tree of Man

This book made me realise that a great novel could be largely plotless. The Tree of Man simply describes the lives of a husband and wife in Australiaa sort of echo of the Garden of Eden set in the Outback. I can’t claim that I remember many details about it nowI read it years and years ago, but I do know that it made me feel that I too could write a plotless book, based on simple, everyday human experiences. 


Who am I?

Loads of people want to be writers and the dream can come true! It did for me. So, I want to tell people about the books that have helped to turn me into a novelist. Initially, I wrote journalistic pieces about bizarre leisure activities for various British newspapers and magazines: I lay on a bed of nails, walked on red hot coals, met people who collect bricks as a hobby...and even lost my underpants while performing on the flying trapeze! (No kidding!) But my ultimate goal was always to become a novelist. Then, one day, I discovered the subject I just had to turn into a novel. And the result was...Death and Mr. Pickwick


I wrote...

Death and Mr. Pickwick

By Stephen Jarvis,

Book cover of Death and Mr. Pickwick

What is my book about?

My novel Death and Mr. Pickwick tells the story behind the creation of Charles Dickens’s first novel The Pickwick Papers—the twist, though, is that the main character is not Dickens, but rather his illustrator, Robert Seymour, the ‘Shakespeare of Caricature’. Death and Mr. Pickwick is about the dawning of the phenomenon of global celebrity—with Pickwick catapulting Dickens to worldwide fame—set against the personal tragedy of Seymour. No previous knowledge of Dickens is required to read Death and Mr. Pickwick. There is a very active Facebook page for the novel- so far,  there have been literally thousands of posts with some fans describing the novel as ‘life-changing’ or ‘like a time machine’. 

Living When a Loved One Has Died

By Earl A. Grollman,

Book cover of Living When a Loved One Has Died

This book explores what to expect during your mourning, what pitfalls to avoid, and how to work through feelings of loss. A well-written guide to ease suffering while moving through the many facets of grief.


Who am I?

Allen Klein is a former hospice volunteer and the former director of The Life-Death Transitions Institute in San Francisco. He has also spoken at over 100 hospice events around the world. In addition, several of his books have dealt with death, dying, and grief. Among them are, The Healing Power of Humor, The Courage to Laugh, and Embracing Life after Loss. Klein’s interest in the connection between humor and death and dying came out of the death of his wife, who had a wonderful sense of humor. He saw how humor helped her, and those around her, cope with this challenging circumstance.


I wrote...

Embracing Life After Loss: A Gentle Guide for Growing Through Grief

By Allen Klein,

Book cover of Embracing Life After Loss: A Gentle Guide for Growing Through Grief

What is my book about?

After my wife died at a young age, I searched for grief books that would ease my pain. Most did not. Most told me about how I might be depressed, lose sleep or not be able to eat. That is not what I needed to hear. What I needed at the time was a book that would hold my hand, comfort me, and help me through the process. Finding none, I wrote my own.

Embracing Life After Loss does exactly that. With simple easy-to-read thoughts and inspiring quotations on which each page is built, it leads the reader through five steps from Loss to Laughter. As Stephen Kiernan, author of Last Rights, said about the book, “If life sometimes feels like a bucket full of small dark stones, Allen Klein’s insights are like bright pennies waiting to be found.”

Everyday Madness

By Lisa Appignanesi,

Book cover of Everyday Madness: On Grief, Anger, Loss and Love

Lisa’s husband dies as he is being treated for cancer. She writes about the first year after in which grief, madness, confusion, isolation, and fury coincide with Britain’s beginning Brexit madness. Nothing can be made sense of and yet we need words to express what’s happening. And then words provide for consoling and managing.

Who am I?

Memoirs have crept up on me as favorites. I could list many more. Please let me! As a psychoanalyst, I listen to the pains and struggles of individuals trying to become more at ease with themselves. They engage with their demons and try to make sense of how to manage the way their personal history has created their worldview and how to expand it enough to enter a present. Memoirs are another way of addressing such struggles. They have an elegance and a universality that emerges out of their individual stories. We learn about the other and we learn about ourselves.


I wrote...

Bodies

By Susie Orbach,

Book cover of Bodies

What is my book about?

Susie looks at how we get the bodies we have. We think of them as predetermined and unfolding but in reality our bodies reflect the familial, cultural, geographic, raced, gendered, and classed positions we are born into and develop from.

Bodies looks at cultural differences – that the Kaypoo bite where we would kiss for instance; at the importance of touch; at the earliest body to body relationship between infant and carers; at the meaning of clothing, of body shape. The democratisation of beauty and the selling of the western and body as a way to enter modernity produce huge profits for the beauty, fashion, food, and diet industries which Bodies discusses. Bodies looks at all the themes through her clinical work with individuals as a psychoanalyst.

The Smell of Rain on Dust

By Martín Prechtel,

Book cover of The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise

Because my art is impermanent, I write and think about that subject a lot. And IMHO, no one speaks as beautifully and powerfully to the subjects of impermanence, life, loss, and beauty better than Prechtel. Prechtel's book is a well of indigenous wisdom on the living relationship between grief and praise. He says, "When you’re grieving for the thing you got, it's called praise. When you're praising for the thing you lost, it's called grief.” If the Earth is speaking her wisdom, this author is delivering it faithfully and beautifully to us.


Who am I?

I came to discover the healing power of art, nature, and ritual while I was grieving the loss of my father a decade ago. I would go to the park and make impermanent and symmetrical art from found twigs, flowers, pine cones, berries, and leaves as a way to ground, heal my broken heart, and make sense of a chaotic time. Since then, I‘ve made over a thousand nature altars, written a book about it (Morning Altars), and have taught tens of thousands of people around the world to make meaning in their lives through a creative collaboration with the natural world. It still amazes me that something so simple and impermanent can bring such wonder and resilience.


I wrote...

Hello, Goodbye: 75 Rituals for Times of Loss, Celebration, and Change

By Day Schildkret,

Book cover of Hello, Goodbye: 75 Rituals for Times of Loss, Celebration, and Change

What is my book about?

Embrace the power of ritual with simple practices that slow us down to honor and mark the real moments in our lives—from the loss of a parent to the birth of a child, from grieving a pet to celebrating coming out of the closet.

Day Schildkret, artist and author behind the international Morning Altars movement, believes that what we need is ritual. Rituals are the rhythms and traditions that give us a sense of stability in the face of uncertainty by reminding us that there’s always something we can do, say or make that conjures awe, contentment, and gratitude. They give us a way to acknowledge through our actions that, as life changes, we too must change.

It's Ok That You're Not Ok

By Megan Devine,

Book cover of It's Ok That You're Not Ok: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn't Understand

I found It’s OK That You’re Not OK to be a useful resource to gain insight and encouragement when dealing with loss and the grieving process. I learned it’s okay to be on my own timeline with grief. Though the author couldn’t cover examples of every type of loss, I thought there were core similarities in people’s grieving that gave readers validation as they concentrated on their own self-care when pushing through their struggles.


Who am I?

I have a B.S. degree in Medical Technology and connect my stories with science. The more I began researching problematic issues in our society for the subject matter of my trilogy, the more I began to empathize with the different kinds of suffering that people endure. I’ve incorporated traumas in all of my Euphoria trilogy stories, from illicit drugs, illnesses, loss, burns, skin regeneration, and human trafficking. Societal awareness is my passion; presenting issues to people who don’t realize these problems are as widespread as they actually are. 


I wrote...

Saving Euphoria

By C. Becker,

Book cover of Saving Euphoria

What is my book about?

Mark Langley risked everything to protect his family. He was assaulted and burnt as his assailants tried to force information from him. Now his family believes he’s dead. As Mark recovers from his burns and PTSD, he must stay in the shadows and wait for the man behind the assault to return to the U.S.—even at the risk of losing his wife to another man.

Hailey Langley cannot accept her husband Mark is dead, but her children are grieving and she must bury her own needs to focus on maintaining some semblance of normalcy for her son and daughter.

A Flood of Kindness

By Ellen Leventhal, Blythe Russo (illustrator),

Book cover of A Flood of Kindness

I appreciate the gentle way Ellen Leventhal empowers children in this picture book—showing even the youngest child can do small things to help others. Charlotte, the main character, her parents, and her toy bear arrive at the shelter after evacuating their home because of flooding. Charlotte watches people at the shelter and in the community share acts of kindness with the flood victims. Even though she is sad and upset, she follows their example. When Charlotte sees a younger child crying because his teddy was lost in the flood, she gives her stuffie to the little boy. It reminds me of how attached my two-year-old grandson is to his teddy bear. These small gestures shine a light of healing and hope during a natural disaster. 


Who am I?

I am a word gatherer. I can sweet-talk a phrase here and surprise a pun there—finding the words to hold a feeling. I revel in playing with words for the sheer joy of writing. My passion is cultivating the heart-to-heart writer/reader connection. A joy-bringer, my glass is always half-full. A former Poetry Day Liaison for OCTELA (Ohio Teachers of English Language Arts), a Teacher Consultant with the National Writing Project, educator, author, and poet, I share hope-filled stories and poems.


I wrote...

When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children

By Janie Reinart, Morgan Taylor (illustrator),

Book cover of When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children

What is my book about?

When Water Makes Mud: A Story of Refugee Children is a tribute to the resourcefulness of children who have no toys but continue to play. Play is the work of a child. You will be inspired by the refugee children's use of critical thinking, problem-solving, design, and engineering skills. 

The exquisite pictures in a National Geographic article started the picture book story for me. Nora Lorek, the photographer graciously gave me her email and became my inspiration and resource. This picture book is dedicated to the 200,000 refugee children living at the Bidibidi settlement in Uganda. These refugee children come with nothing but their hopes and dreams. Their hope becomes our hope. Publisher’s profits from this book are being donated to UNICEF Uganda.

Anxiety

By Claire Bidwell Smith,

Book cover of Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief: A Revolutionary Approach to Understanding and Healing the Impact of Loss

Claire Bidwell Smith’s Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief was the first book that revealed to me that anxiety lives in the body autonomous from the mind, and can cause panic attacks hours or even a day after the feelings flood the system, causing a lack of connection between cause and effect. It expanded my sense of what anxiety is, and how the physical response appears in unexpected places…like while grieving.

Who am I?

When I first started building this site, and the Beautiful Voyager community, I had just turned 40 years old. I’d been fighting migraines all of my life and had tried every medication and natural approach possible. I'd given up hope for improvement when my neurologist surprised me by saying: You have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I searched but found nothing online that spoke to my physical experience of stress, overthinking, and anxiety. I decided that had to change, and that was when Beautiful Voyager was born. I hope you find the answers you’re looking for, or even just feel less alone on the journey. The first Beautiful Voyager book, Get Out of My Head, was released in May 2020.


I wrote...

Get Out of My Head: Inspiration for Overthinkers in an Anxious World

By Meredith Arthur,

Book cover of Get Out of My Head: Inspiration for Overthinkers in an Anxious World

What is my book about?

Are you an overthinker? You’re not alone! This beautifully illustrated guide offers a joyful, manageable way to deal with anxiety while quieting your stressful thoughts through easy exercises, bite-sized takeaways, and calming visuals. What if you learned to ride the wave of anxiety instead of getting lost in it? Get Out of My Head is here to help, providing guidance and inspiration for overthinkers, people-pleasers, and perfectionists. Written by Meredith Arthur, founder of Beautiful Voyager, featuring art by Leah Rosenberg, former Director of the Color Factory in New York, Get Out of My Head offers soothing techniques for understanding anxiety and moving through the traps of overthinking.

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