Grief: a reading list

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the year of magical thinking book cover

My grandfather was almost 98 when he passed away last month. While his death was sad, it wasn’t exactly unexpected. What was unexpected, however, was how ill prepared I felt for the emotions that came to the surface during the days surrounding the funeral. Other than the death of my dog ten years ago, an event that left me devastated and completely heartbroken, I had never been faced with the death of someone who meant something to me. Someone who I associated with specific memories and moments in my life.

I received beautiful flowers and some very sweet cards when my grandfather died, and it was all very helpful. It made me feel better just knowing that the people in my life were thinking of me and acknowledging that I was going through something. But even with all the support I still felt like I needed something more to get through it. I had no idea where to look.

As usual when I don’t know what to do, I turned to books to help me figure things out. I discovered the huge number of books out there for people who are grieving. I was kind of overwhelmed by choice, actually. So I narrowed it down to the three with the best reviews and that were the most recommended. Books might not help everyone but Joan Didion’s book certainly helped me. Enough so that the next time someone I know is faced with the death of a loved one, I would consider buying a copy of her book to give to them, in addition to a card and maybe a batch of cookies. Because cookies always help.


The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”

On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”

A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir
“The misfortune is that although everyone must come to [death], each experiences the adventure in solitude.”

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