Like me, Anton was a voracious reader all his life; he just loved books, and from the moment he learned to read could usually be found with his nose in one. It's unbearably sad that I am writing this post about reading, because he is gone.
When he died, I felt I needed to read everything I could get my hands on. I think its my way of trying to find some sense or meaning, or understanding, and to help my brain to process what has happened. For me, reaching out to others comes naturally, and so I needed to know how other people coped and survived this awful tragedy. Below is a selection of the things I have read and found helpful in the last few years. They are mostly related to death or suicide, but some deal with recovery from other traumatic events. Those marked with a * are fiction.
Auerbach, Susan Walking the Mourner's Path After a Child's Suicide this blog has been a huge comfort to me. Susan talks openly and honestly about her life since losing her son Noah to suicide in 2013, and has followed up with a helpful book ((2017) I’ll Write Your Name on Every Beach: A Mother’s Quest for Comfort, Courage, and Clarity After Suicide Loss Jessica Kingsley, London) in which she chronicles each stage of grief with its associated emotions. It helped me feel less alone in my loss.
Bates, Sasha (2020) Languages of Loss: A Psychotherapist's Journey Through Grief A good friend saw an article about this book in the paper and sent it to me. Sasha lost her husband very suddenly and writes in a refreshingly direct manner. Her references to anger resonated especially with me - anger is such a complex and feared emotion, and yet utterly normal. I haven't read her follow up (Bates, Sasha (2021) A Grief Companion: Practical Support and a Guiding Hand Through the Darkness of Loss) yet but based on her first book I'm sure I will soon.
Bernstein, Judith (1997/98) When the Bough Breaks Forever after the Death of a Son or Daughter Andrew McMeel, Kansas, Missouri. Written by a psychologist whose son died from cancer in 1987, this book is based on 55 interviews with bereaved parents. As she says in Chapter One: "When a child dies, the very ground on which we depend for stability quakes and the rightness and orderliness of our existence are destroyed." (p.3)
Claye, Gina (2006) Don’t Let Them Tell You How to Grieve Oxpen, UK and (2019) Upright with Knickers on: Surviving the Death of a Child www.Oxford-eBooks.com
Tragically, Gina lost her daughter Nikki, aged 19 to suicide in 1987, and then her son Robin died of encephalitis in 2003, aged 32. In her first book she uses beautiful but very accessible poetry to explore her feelings of grief; the second is a compilation of pieces of writing by herself and other bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents, all members of The Compassionate Friends (TCF). The book looks at topics such as a father's grief; the experiences of those who've lost a brother or sister; coping with special occasions; strategies to keep going, all with compassion, and even, as you might expect from the title, a little humour.
Duffy, M & Wild, J (2017). A cognitive approach to persistent complex bereavement disorder (PCBD) The Cognitive Behaviour Therapist vol. 10, 1-19. This is an article intended for psychotherapists specialising in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, working with people like you and me. For that reason I hesitated to include it here but it really helped me to read it and to attend the online training course that Michael and Jennifer presented.
Eger, Edith (2017) The Choice: even in hell hope can flower Penguin, Random House, London. This is the true story of a survivor of Auschwitz, and her determination to endure, to live and to make a meaningful life for herself, despite having been through barely imaginable atrocities. I found it both humbling and uplifting.
Frankl, Viktor, E. (2004) Man’s Search for Meaning Random House, New York. This homage to hope from a Holocaust survivor has become a classic. I found that a year or so after Anton died, I began constantly to find ways of bringing new meaning into my life. Much of what I do now serves to create more meaning: through small gestures of kindness or more significant or tangible activities, I try to help others. And in doing so, of course I help myself.
Glen, Joanna (2019) The Other Half of Augusta Hope Harper Collins, London*. I loved this novel about a young woman surviving cataclysmic loss and learning to find hope.
Helen, Maggie (2002) Coping with Suicide Sheldon Press, London. The author lost her mother to suicide as a child, and offers this insightful and hopeful book from the Overcoming Common Problems Series that did help me to feel less alone.
Hood, Ann (2008) The Knitting Circle Harper Collins, London*. A gentle but moving novel about a mother whose daughter dies, and who finds succour within a group of women united in their sense of loss, supporting one another.
Hurcombe, Linda (2004) Losing a Child: Explorations in Grief Sheldon Press, London. The author speaks from personal experience of losing her own daughter Caitlin, aged 19. She explores the differences between babies, losing young children, and older children, and about the impact of different types of loss. Very readable.
Jordan, J. & Baugher, B. (2016) After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief, 2nd Edition Caring people Press, Washington. A psychologist and counsellor specialising in grief over many years spell out in very direct and accessible language how much it hurts, why, and how we learn to absorb our losses. Definitely recommend.
Klass, D., Silverman, P.R., & Nickman, S.L. (Eds) (1996). Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief Penguin, London. Not a very accessible book, as its aimed at psychologists but definitely worth a read if you'd like to learn more about the theoretical underpinnings of Continuing Bonds. If not, there's a lot of information online and I'll also be covering Continuing Bonds in a separate post.
Klass, D. (1999) The Spiritual Lives of Bereaved Parents. Taylor & Francis New York, London. I found this book heavy going in parts, but there's a lot to admire and gain comfort from too.
Murray Parkes, C & Prigerson, H.G. (2010). Bereavement: Studies of grief in Adult Life 4th Edition. This is written by a consultant psychiatrist and Life President of Cruse Bereavement Care, and a professor of psychiatry and Director at the Centre for Psycho-oncology and Palliative Care Research. It looks at theories of grief and bereavement in a very accessible way, and speaks wisely and compassionately about what the research tells us about this very human condition. It includes a section on the impact of complicated grief associated with traumatic losses such as suicide. It explores the work of grief; how we travel in our own way through each painful step. I found it comforting and reassuring to read about the journey that sadly has been made so many times before; the cycles of love and loss.
Porter, Max (2015) Grief is the Thing with Feathers Faber & Faber Ltd, London*. This is a very quirky, tragic, funny, dark and sad, but ultimately hopeful novel about a family struggling in the early months of grief. It took me a while to appreciate it, but when I did, I realised what an amazing book it is.
Rentzenbrink, Cathy (2015) The Last Act of Love and (2017) Manual for Heartache: How to Feel Better, both Picador, London. Cathy lost her brother Matty when she was 17 and he was 16; he was knocked over by a car. Her first book is a beautifully written tribute to Matty and describes how she and her parents coped with this tragic event. Her second book is described as "a survival guide for hard times". Both books are very human and unpretentious.
Samuel, Julia (2017) Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving Penguin, Random House UK. I've watched several videos online of Julia Samuel talking about her work as a grief psychotherapist, and she is very easy to warm to. This book tells stories of various people she has worked with to help them work through the pain of grief - what she calls Grief Work. She has also produced an app by the same name - its not cheap but I did find it comforting and it was a bit like having a therapist in my pocket.
Winn, Raynor (2018) The Salt Path Penguin, Random House, UK. The Sunday Times describes this as "A tale of triumph: of hope over despair; of love over everything". It certainly was an absolute inspiration to me. A wonderful book.
Worden, William J. (2010) Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner, 4th Edition Routledge, East Sussex. I like to read books aimed at professionals as well as those directed towards myself as a bereaved mum, not just because I am a psychotherapist myself, but because I like to know what the teachers are teaching the people working with us. I find a bit of theory reassuring and comforting - of course they don't all fit for everyone but I usually find something to take away that helps me.
Useful Organisations, Websites, Apps:
There are so many great resources out there; I've just named a few here that I've used personally or know someone who has.
The Compassionate Friends www.tcf.org.uk I cannot speak highly enough of this wonderful organisation of bereaved parents helping bereaved parents! Helpline, residentials and events, local groups, walks, online talks and articles, Grief Companion scheme, brilliant booklets to help with all aspects of grief and all types of bereavement of a child/sibling/grandchild
Suicide&Co www.suicideandco.org has a wealth of fantastic resources, including: Helpline for people bereaved by suicide; Counselling service; Organisational Support and a wonderful Help Hub which features first hand accounts, podcasts, films, books, apps all about, by and for anyone bereaved by suicide, including free bereavement support for kids, mental health support for members of the black community; peer-led meet-ups for 18-24 year olds; grief dinner parties; support for bereaved men. Far too many amazing things to list here - take a look for yourself!
SOBS Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide https://uksobs.org/ some local groups, varies by area
CALM The Campaign Against Living Miserably https://www.thecalmzone.net campaigning against, and raising awareness of suicide, particularly amongst men
Support After Suicide Partnership https://staging.supportaftersuicide.org.uk
Suicide Bereavement https://suicidebereavementuk.com campaigning for more support to people bereaved by suicide
Stay Alive https://www.stayalive.app/ for those at risk of suicide or those worried about someone else; some really useful tools, advice and information
Papyrus https://www.papyrus-uk.org/ is an excellent organisation that exists to help prevent young suicide
CALM app https://www.calm.com/ I use the sleep stories every night to get off to sleep, and when I wake up during the night. I find it very soporific to listen to the human voice. My husband and I do a meditation every morning, which has really helped his sleep too. I'd never used either stories or meditation before but now I wouldn't be without them.
Grief Works app https://griefworkscourse.com/ Julia Samuel's 28 session course, working through grief. I probably did it too late as it felt as though I had already done a lot of the grief work by the time it was available for Android. At £49.99 for 3 months/£199 lifetime (2022 prices) its not cheap, but it was a little like having my own personal therapist always available in my pocket, and I did find it a comfort.