Grief Books for Adults
Reading is a therapeutic way to process your grief and gain valuable insight or comfort from the experiences of others. Here are a few recommendations for the best grief books for adults.
By Megan Devine
When a painful loss or life-shattering event upends your world, here is the first thing to know: there is nothing wrong with grief. “Grief is simply love in its most wild and painful form,” says Megan Devine. “It is a natural and sane response to loss.”
So, why does our culture treat grief like a disease to be cured as quickly as possible?
In It’s OK That You’re Not OK, Megan Devine offers a profound new approach to both the experience of grief and the way we try to help others who have endured tragedy. Having experienced grief from both sides – as both a therapist and as a woman who witnessed the accidental drowning of her beloved partner – Megan writes with deep insight about the unspoken truths of loss, love, and healing. She debunks the culturally prescribed goal of returning to a normal, “happy” life, replacing it with a far healthier middle path, one that invites us to build a life alongside grief rather than seeking to overcome it.
By C.S. Lewis
A classic work on grief, A Grief Observed is C.S. Lewis’s honest reflection on the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss. Written after his wife’s tragic death as a way of surviving the “mad midnight moments. ” A Grief Observed an unflinchingly truthful account of how loss can lead even a stalwart believer to lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and the inspirational tale of how he can possibly regain his bearings.
By Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D., & David Kessler
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying changed the way we talk about the end of life. Before her own death in 2004, she and David Kessler completed On Grief and Grieving, which looks at the way we experience the process of grief.
Just as On Death and Dying taught us the five stages of death – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. On Grief and Grieving applies these stages to the grieving process and weaves together theory, inspiration, and practical advice, including sections on sadness, hauntings, dreams, isolation, and healing. This is “a fitting finale and tribute to the acknowledged expert on end-of-life matters” (Good Housekeeping).
By Claire Bidwell Smith
With this groundbreaking book, discover the critical connections between anxiety and grief. And learn practical strategies for healing, based on the Kübler-Ross stages model.
If you’re suffering from anxiety but not sure why, or if you’re struggling with loss and looking for solace. Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief offers help and answers. As grief expert Claire Bidwell Smith discovered in her own life and in her practice with her therapy clients. Significant loss and unresolved grief are primary underpinnings of anxiety.
Using research and real life stories, Smith breaks down the physiology of anxiety, providing a concrete explanation that will help you heal. Starting with the basics questions “What is anxiety?” and “What is grief?” and moving to concrete approaches such as making amends, taking charge, and retraining your brain, Anxiety takes a big step beyond Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s widely accepted five stages to unpack everything from our age-old fears about mortality to the bare vulnerability a loss can make us feel.
With concrete tools and coping strategies for panic attacks, getting a handle on anxious thoughts, and more. Smith bridges these two emotions in a way that is deeply empathetic and profoundly practical.
By Nora McInerny Purmort
Twenty-seven-year-old Nora McInerny Purmort bounced from boyfriend to dopey “boyfriend” until she met Aaron—a charismatic art director and comic-book nerd who once made Nora laugh so hard she pulled a muscle. When Aaron was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer, they refused to let it limit their love. They got engaged on Aaron’s hospital bed and had a baby boy while he was on chemo.
In the period that followed, Nora and Aaron packed fifty years of marriage into the three they got, spending their time on what really matters: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, each other, and Beyoncé. A few months later, Aaron died in Nora’s arms. The obituary they wrote during Aaron’s hospice care revealing his true identity as Spider-Man touched the nation.
With It’s Okay to Laugh, Nora puts a young, fresh twist on the subjects of mortality and resilience. What does it actually mean to live your “one wild and precious life” to the fullest? How can a joyful marriage contain more sickness than health? How do you keep going when life kicks you in the junk?
In this deeply felt and deeply funny memoir, Nora gives her readers a true gift—permission to struggle, permission to laugh, permission to tell the truth and know that everything will be okay. It’s Okay to Laugh is a love letter to life, in all its messy glory; it reads like a conversation with a close friend, and leaves a trail of glitter in its wake.
By Jan Richardson
When Jan Richardson unexpectedly lost her husband and creative partner, the singer/songwriter Garrison Doles, she did what she had long known how to do: she wrote blessings.
These were no sugar-coated blessings. They minimized none of the pain and bewilderment that came in the wake of a wrenching death. With these blessings, Jan entered, instead, into the depths of the shock, anger, and sorrow. From those depths, she has brought forth words that, with heartbreaking honesty, offer surprising comfort and stunning grace.
Those who know loss will find kinship among these pages. In these blessings that move through the anguish of rending into the unexpected shelters of solace and hope. There shimmers a light that helps us see we do not walk alone.
From her own path of grief, Jan offers a luminous, unforgettable gift that invites us to know the tenacity of hope and to recognize the presence of love that, as she writes, is “sorrow’s most lasting cure.”
By Amanda Held Opelt
In a raw and inspiring reflection on grief, a mourning sister processes her personal story of loss by exploring the history of bereavement customs.
When Amanda Held Opelt suffered a season of loss including three miscarriages and the death of her grandmother and culminating in the unexpected death of her sister, New York Times bestselling writer Rachel Held Evans. She was confronted with sorrow she didn’t know to how face. And through her career as an international aid worker, she traveled to some of the world’s most troubled regions, devastated by war, natural disasters, and disease. In the wake of these losses and exposure to trauma, Opelt struggled to process her grief and accept the reality of her pain and the pain in the world. She also wrestled with some unexpectedly difficult questions:
What does it mean to truly grieve and to grieve well?
Why is it so hard to move on? Why didn’t my faith prepare me for this kind of pain?
Does the Bible really speak to the heart of sorrow?
What am I supposed to do now?
Her search for a way to process her grief led her to seek wisdom about how other people have made it through, and she found that generations past embraced rituals that served as vessels for pain and aided in the process of grieving and healing. Today, many of these traditions have been lost as religious practice declines, cultures amalgamate, death is sanitized, and pain is averted.
In this raw and authentic memoir of bereavement, Opelt explores the history of human grief practices and how previous generations have journeyed through periods of suffering.
By Nora McInerny
In the span of a few weeks, 30-something Nora McInerny had a miscarriage, lost her father to cancer, and lost her husband due to a brain tumor. Her life fell apart.
What Nora discovered during this dark time is that when you’re in these hard moments, it can feel impossible to feel like even a shadow of the person you once were. People will give you all sorts of advice of how to hold on to your sanity and sense of self. But how exactly? How do you find that person again? Welcome to The Hot Young Widows Club, Nora’s response to the toughest questions about life’s biggest struggles.
The Hot Young Widows Club isn’t just for people who have lost a spouse but an essential tool for anyone who has gone through a major life struggle. Based on her own experiences and those of the listeners dedicated to her podcast, Terrible, Thanks for Asking, Nora offers wise, heartfelt, and often humorous advice to anyone navigating a painful period in his or her life. Full of practical guidance, Nora also reminds us that it’s still okay to laugh, despite your deep grief. She explores how listeners can educate the people around them on what to do, what to say, and how to best to lend their support.
Ultimately, this audiobook is a space for people to recognize that they aren’t alone and to learn how to get through life’s hardest moments with grace and humor and even hope.
By Kaitlin Wernet, Rebecca Faires, Cymone Wilder, Caleb Faires
When someone is grieving, what should you say? How can you help? How do you comfort without offering shallow platitudes? The Book of Comforts stands in the gap between suffering and hope, offering readers the abiding comfort found in Scripture and personal experience.
The Book of Comforts is unlike other books on grief. With beautiful four-color interiors, an inviting format with brief devotions, and a ribbon marker. Readers will gain:
- Long-term comfort from scripturally focused entries
- A deeper understanding of their grief, loss, and pain, and discover the richness of God’s love
- A meaningful way to walk through hurt, heartache, challenges, and difficulty through the truth of God’s Word
Scripture deals plainly and honestly with suffering and simultaneously points people to the rich hope we find in God. The Book of Comforts is a beautiful and comforting gift for those in hard places. Because even though we don’t always know what to say, the gift of divine consolation is always helpful.
By Joan Didion
Several days before Christmas 2003, John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion saw their only daughter, Quintana, fall ill with what seemed at first flu, then pneumonia, then complete septic shock. She was put into an induced coma and placed on life support. Days later, the night before New Year’s Eve, the Dunnes were just sitting down to dinner after visiting the hospital when John Gregory Dunne suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In a second, this close, symbiotic partnership of forty years was over. Four weeks later, their daughter pulled through. Two months after that, arriving at LAX, she collapsed and underwent six hours of brain surgery at UCLA Medical Center to relieve a massive hematoma.
This powerful book is Didion’ s attempt to make sense of the “weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness … about marriage and children and memory … about the shallowness of sanity, about life itself.
11. The Comfort Book
By Matt Haig
THE COMFORT BOOK is Haig’s life raft. It’s a collection of notes, lists, and stories written over a span of several years, that originally served as gentle reminders to Haig’s future self that things are not always as dark as they may seem. Incorporating a diverse array of sources from across the world, history, science, and his own experiences. Haig offers warmth and reassurance, reminding us to slow down and appreciate the beauty and unpredictability of existence.
By Michelle Zauner
In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon. Of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her, of a painful adolescence. Of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.
As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, performing gigs with her fledgling band and meeting the man who would become her husband. Her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity. And brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.
Vivacious and plainspoken, lyrical and honest, Zauner’s voice is as radiantly alive on the page as it is onstage. Rich with intimate anecdotes that will resonate widely, and complete with family photos, Crying in H Mart is a book to cherish, share, and reread.
13. H Is for Hawk
By Helen Macdonald
When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer captivated by hawks since childhood, she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators: the goshawk.
But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral anger mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel. And turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T. H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her journey into Mabel’s world. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity.
By turns heartbreaking and hilarious, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement. A unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, and the story of an eccentric falconer and legendary writer. Weaving together obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history, H Is for Hawk is a distinctive, surprising blend of nature writing and memoir from a very gifted writer.
14. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping, and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One
By Brook Noel and Pamela D Blair
Each year about eight million Americans suffer the death of someone close to them. Now, for those who face the challenges of sudden death, there is a hand to hold. Written by two women who have experienced sudden loss, this updated edition of the best-selling bereavement classic will touch, comfort, uplift and console. Authors Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D., offer a comforting hand to hold for those who are grieving the sudden death of a loved one.
Featured on ABC World News, Friends, and many other shows, this book acts as a touchstone of sanity through difficult times. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye covers such difficult topics as the first few weeks, suicide, death of a child, children and grief, funerals and rituals, physical effects, homicide and depression. With new material covering the unique circumstances of loss, men and women’s grieving styles, religion and faith, myths and misunderstandings, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye reflects the shifting face of grief.
This book has offered solace to over 80,000 people, ranging from seniors to teenagers and from the newly bereaved to those who lost a loved one years ago. Individuals engulfed by the immediate aftermath will find a special chapter covering the first few weeks.
Tapping their personal histories and drawing on numerous interviews, authors Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D., explore unexpected death and its role in the cycle of life. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye provides survivors with a rock-steady anchor from which to weather the storm of pain and begin to rebuild their lives.
By Mary-Frances O’Connor
In The Grieving Brain, neuroscientist and psychologist Mary-Frances O’Connor, PhD, gives us a fascinating new window into one of the hallmark experiences of being human. O’Connor has devoted decades to researching the effects of grief on the brain, and in this book, she makes cutting-edge neuroscience accessible through her contagious enthusiasm, and guides us through how we encode love and grief. With love, our neurons help us form attachments to others; but, with loss, our brain must come to terms with where our loved ones went, or how to imagine a future without them.
The Grieving Brain addresses:
- Why it’s so hard to understand that a loved one has died and is gone forever
- Why grief causes so many emotions—sadness, anger, blame, guilt, and yearning
- Why grieving takes so long
- The distinction between grief and prolonged grief
- Why we ruminate so much after we lose a loved one
- How we go about restoring a meaningful life while grieving
Based on O’Connor’s own trailblazing neuroimaging work, research in the field, and her real-life stories, The Grieving Brain combines storytelling, accessible science, and practical knowledge that will help us better understand what happens when we grieve and how to navigate loss with more ease and grace.
By Marisa Renee Lee
In Grief is Love, author Marisa Renee Lee reveals that healing does not mean moving on after losing a loved one. Healing means learning to acknowledge and create space for your grief. It is about learning to love the one you lost with the same depth, passion, joy, and commitment you did when they were alive, perhaps even more. She guides you through the pain of grief. Whether you’ve lost the person recently or long ago. And shows you what it looks like to honor your loss on your unique terms, and debunks the idea of a grief stages or timelines. Grief is Love is about making space for the transformation that a significant loss requires.
In beautiful, compassionate prose, Lee elegantly offers wisdom about what it means to authentically and defiantly claim space for grief’s complicated feelings and emotions. And Lee is no stranger to grief herself, she shares her journey after losing her mother, a pregnancy, and, most recently, a cousin to the COVID-19 pandemic. These losses transformed her life and led her to question what grief really is and what healing actually looks like. In this book, she also explores the unique impact of grief on Black people and reveals the key factors that proper healing requires: permission, care, feeling, grace and more.
The transformation we each undergo after loss is the indelible imprint of the people we love on our lives, which is the true definition of legacy. At its core, Grief is Love explores what comes after death, and shows us that if we are able to own and honor what we’ve lost, we can experience a beautiful and joyful life in the midst of grief.
By David Kessler
In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first identified the stages of dying in her transformative book On Death and Dying. Decades later, she and David Kessler wrote the classic On Grief and Grieving, introducing the stages of grief with the same transformative pragmatism and compassion. Now, based on hard-earned personal experiences, as well as knowledge and wisdom gained through decades of work with the grieving, Kessler introduces a critical sixth stage: meaning.
Kessler’s insight is both professional and intensely personal. His journey with grief began when, as a child, he witnessed a mass shooting at the same time his mother was dying. For most of his life, Kessler taught physicians, nurses, counselors, police, and first responders about end of life, trauma, and grief, as well as leading talks and retreats for those experiencing grief. Despite his knowledge, his life was upended by the sudden death of his 21-year-old son.
How does the grief expert handle such a tragic loss? He knew he had to find a way through this unexpected, devastating loss, a way that would honor his son. That, ultimately, was the sixth stage of grief – meaning. In Finding Meaning, Kessler shares the insights, collective wisdom, and powerful tools that will help those experiencing loss.
By Bessel A. van der Kolk
Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent more than three decades working with survivors.
In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust. He explores innovative treatments – from neurofeedback and meditation to sports, drama, and yoga – that offer new paths to recovery by activating the brain’s natural neuroplasticity. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score exposes the tremendous power of our relationships both to hurt and to heal – and offers new hope for reclaiming lives.
Cover image: 2020 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Courtesy of the Archives Henri Matisse, All rights reserved.
19. Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode-and into a Life of Connection and Joy
By Aundi Kolber
In a world that preaches a “try harder” gospel-just keep going, keep hustling, keep pretending we’re all fine-we’re left exhausted, overwhelmed, and so numb to our lives. If we’re honest, we’ve been overfunctioning for so long, we can’t even imagine another way. How else will things get done? How else will we survive?
It doesn’t have to be this way. Aundi Kolber believes that we don’t have to white-knuckle our way through life. In her debut book, Try Softer, she’ll show us how God specifically designed our bodies and minds to work together to process our stories and work through obstacles. Through the latest psychology, practical clinical exercises, and her own personal story, Aundi equips and empowers us to connect us to our truest self and truly live. This is the “try softer” life.
In Try Softer, you’ll learn how to: know and set emotional and relational boundaries; make sense of the difficult experiences you’ve had; identify your attachment style-and how that affects your relationships today; move through emotions rather than get stuck by them; and grow in self-compassion and talk back to your inner critic. Trying softer is sacred work. And while it won’t be perfect or easy, it will be worth it. Because this is what we were made for: a living, breathing, moving, feeling, connected, beautifully incarnational life.
By Jennifer a O’Brien
Everyone facing death-their own or a loved one’s-benefits from this love story and practical guide in one.
As a hospice doctor, Bob cared daily for dying patients. At home, his wife, Jen, listened to the stories of patients and families, layering her understanding of death with the early losses of her own brother and mother. Then, the man who had spent a 40-year career caregiving was diagnosed with advanced, metastatic cancer.
An insightful blend of art and compassion, patience and endearing honesty, this book comprises Jen’s digital art journal, which chronicles this time in their marriage. What began as a visceral, self-care compulsion within days of diagnosis became notes, collages, and images revealing the raw, luminescent reflections of a caregiver-turned-widow.
Beyond the practical guidance and solace offered by an insider, Jen’s journal reminds us how to live presently during our darkest hours, honor grief, and discover-even after devastating loss-ways to forge forward.
*All descriptions are from Amazon.com
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