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Reading Recommendations

Anton reading

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 (in alphabetical order of author) 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)

Cacciatore, Joanne (2017) Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief Wisdom Publications. In some ways I have found this book the most comforting book about grief that I have read. Very human, filled with compassionate wisdom.

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

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 have also covered 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.

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Ligia, you amaze me, your strength, your compassion, your desire to not alleviate suffering but to learn how to survive despite it, your desire to help / support others. The black hole imagery has been really helpful to understand some of your experience and how it can never be about filling the hole, that would be impossible but learning to grow around it. Keep on keeping on.


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