8 Comforting Books About Dying and Grief

Even if you love reading, you might let the stress and sadness of a loss stop you from picking up books. Many people cite the death of a family member as a reason their reading time decreased.

Although losing someone you love disrupts your life, books offer you a unique form of comfort. Reading yields many benefits that help with grief. These include lower feelings of isolation, higher amounts of self-acceptance, and increased awareness that everyone experiences difficulties.

Invite the healing power of the written word into your mind and heart with these renowned books about dying and grief.

1. “The Long Goodbye” by Meghan O’Rourke

In this memoir, poet and essayist O’Rourke shares her reflections about life following her mother’s cancer diagnosis and eventual death. This book includes both philosophical musings and vivid scenes about how O’Rourke managed (or mismanaged) her grief. Some scenes might not appeal to more sensitive readers, but if you’re looking for an honest examination of loss, this is it.

2. “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion

Following her husband’s unexpected death from cardiac arrest, Didion penned this memoir, which won the National Book Award. In the book, Didion describes how she relived and repeatedly analyzed her husband’s death in the year after his passing.

You may also find comfort in Didion’s other grief memoir, “Blue Nights,” about her daughter’s death.

3. “On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

This book outlines the now-famous theory about the five stages of grief. Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist, created the theory after working with terminally ill patients. She uses this book to discuss how the patients themselves pass-through grief, but countless individuals have looked to this book to guide them through the grieving process since its initial publication in 1969.

4. “On Grief and Grieving” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

Kubler-Ross applied the five stages to those left behind after a death in this follow up to “On Death and Dying.” The book takes a scientific approach to how humans accept loss, but you’ll also find encouragement and guidance to get through your own stages of grief.

5. “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom

When journalist Mitch Albom discovered that his favorite professor, Morrie Schwartz, was dying of ALS, he contacted him to reconnect and say goodbye. Before Morrie passed away, the two spent many Tuesdays together at Morrie’s house. Albom recorded the wisdom he gained from those conversations into this 1997 book.

The book spent years on the NY Times bestseller list and inspired an Emmy-winning TV movie. Even if you’ve read it before, “Tuesdays with Morrie” takes on new meaning when you read it after losing someone you love.

6. “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch

Many people reflect on life when they find out they have a terminal illness, but not everyone gets to record and share their viewpoint. Professor Randy Pausch did.

After doctors diagnosed Pausch with pancreatic cancer, Carnegie Melon invited him to give a last lecture, an honor usually reserved for retiring faculty. Pausch used the opportunity to give advice about “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Before his death, Pausch adapted the lecture into a book.

7. “The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing” edited by Kevin Young

Poet Kevin young compiled this anthology after his father’s death. The included poems come from well-known past and current poets, such as Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson, and recent US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. The 150 poems in this collection contain the comfort inherent in beautiful language. Pick up “The Art of Losing” if you prefer to ponder death a stanza at a time.

8. “Dying: A Book of Comfort” edited by Pat McNees

This collection works well for anyone who doesn’t like the idea of interpreting poetic symbolism or reading a novel-length memoir about grief. In these pages, you’ll find shorter passages from philosophers, writers, and religious leaders of many faiths. You can sample the different sections or read it straight through. With each new voice, you’ll find support from others who’ve experienced a deep loss.

Tips for Using This List

As you decide what to read from this list, consider how you handle grief. For example, if a book sounds like it discusses situations similar to yours, select another title. You may find more comfort in books that don’t mirror your grief too closely.

Before you buy a book or borrow a copy from the library, you should also flip through its pages. Read the book jacket or back cover to learn more about what’s inside. Skim a few sample passages to see whether the writing style appeals to you as well.

Finally, remember that you’re reading to ease the pain of the grieving process, not to intensify it or complete an assignment. Give yourself permission to stop reading if you don’t enjoy a specific book. If you follow these basic guidelines, you can likely find a comforting book to read as you grieve your loved one.

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