I remember listening to the audio version of Life after Loss: A Practical Guide to Renewing Your Life After Experiencing Major Loss en route to the airport. It was a library book I downloaded for the ride. My husband was driving; our older son was leaving for an internship abroad. The date was December 28, exactly three months after our younger son’s suicide. I was sitting in the passenger seat, headphones in, rigid and brittle, holding my breath so I wouldn’t break apart. Then, the narrator explained, “Certain points in time after a major loss stand out with special significance.” The three-month marker, he said, “is often one of the most difficult times of all…..the full impact of the loss is upon you.” I snapped to attention. This validation—that the mishmash of shock and fear I’d lugged around every single day since September was morphing into something else—helped me feel a mild sense of relief. I bought a physical copy of the book when we got home.
While there is plenty in Life After Loss I did not use or care for, there were practical goal-setting exercises that helped me chart a new course for myself. This website, pivoting from counseling to teaching, and an expansion of my creative reach sprung from Life After Loss.
Here are some of the many other books I’ve read since that fateful fall of 2018 and continue to consult on this journey:
The Unspeakable Loss: How Do You Live After a Child Dies? by Nisha Zenhoff – I loved that Zenhoff provided a list of books for grievers that have nothing to do with religion. I also loved that she promised herself she’d write a book about losing her son Victor and did, more than 30 years later!
Comfort: A Journey Through Grief by Ann Hood – I remember where I was when I read Hood’s breakout Modern Love column about the sudden death of her five-year old daughter, Grace. Grace left the world as my baby entered it. I wanted to write like Hood, but I didn’t want to be a part of that terrible club.
My Son, My Son by Iris Bolton and Curtis C. Mitchell – This book was first published in 1983 and launched Bolton’s career as an international speaker and consultant about suicide. I was desperate for a book by a mental health practitioner who’d lost a child to suicide. Bolton co-wrote this slim and powerful book with her father. I am grateful my local library system still had it on the shelf.
Knitting Heaven and Earth: Healing the Heart with Craft by Susan Gordon Lydon – This book was actually on my bedroom shelf for years and I didn’t dive into it until after September 2018. I took my first knitting class in the autumn of 2002.
This Year I Will…by M.J. Ryan – M.J. is near and dear to me because, as I’ve learned not only through grief, but also with my time in education that progress is about ACTION and EVALUATION. You have to have both. This book, and Adaptability: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For, are the kind of self-help books with practical steps for reflection and reinvention that I value. I wish M.J. lived in my town instead of California; I picture us puzzling things out together while hiking.
It’s OK that You’re Not OK by Megan Devine – Devine is a gift to grievers. I wish I’d accessed her insights in my first year of grief. Like a lot of the books I like, this one includes writing and reflection exercises to help us carry the loss into the new version of our daily lives.
The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller – A friend I met at the Greater Good Science Center’s Summer Institute for Educators sent this resource my way. I’ve bookmarked and underlined so many passages in this book. There are rich and deep messages about self-compassion and healing the wounds of belonging. Weller wisdom: “Establishing a relationship with grief, developing practices that keep us steady in times of distress, and staying present in our adult selves are some of the central tasks in our apprenticeship with sorrow.”
Healing a Parent’s Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas after Your Child Dies by Alan D. Wolfelt – Well-known grief expert who manages the Center for Loss and Life Transitions. If I were designing the book jacket for future editions, I would’ve only included an author photo on the back cover. The fact that Wolfelt has not lost a child and then to see him smiling, surrounded by his children and spouse, sort of pisses me off. Despite that, the contents reinforce the idea that I’m not alone. We bereaved parents are everywhere.
Hope, Make, Heal: 20 Crafts to Mend the Heart by Maya Pagan Donenfeld – I haven’t made a single thing from this book. I just like the cover and flipping through it for creative inspiration. Donenfeld rightly says, “The act of healing will look different for each of us. There is no need to rush—nor a clear timetable for traveling through the unique terrain of each loss. Death of a loved one, a traumatic life event, or deep heartbreak are all wounds that have the potential never to leave us.” Umm…check, check, and check.