Southwest Otero Mesa 1.7 Miles North Of Grief Tank, Patrick Alexander
As I passed into the region of grief and bereavement after my partner died, I was disappointed at the poor quality of the Google-able resources on the topic. Too many simply had the same unhelpful five bullet points (“You’re going to feel bad for awhile, maybe a long while.” No, really?) or parroted Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, which Kubler-Ross herself came to doubt before she died.
Below are the books, articles, scholarly papers and ideas which I found useful and which informed my own approach to grief recovery.
I also wrote The Three Most Important Things I Learned About Grief. In it, I summarize the three things I wish I knew when my partner died suddenly.
This book, and the website of the author, Megan Devine, is my number one recommendation for those looking for a book on grief. Devine is particularly good on sudden or “out-of-order” deaths, explaining what you can expect without trying to impose a broader narrative or stages on the process.
The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion.
It’s Joan Didion. Of course it’s astonishingly good.
From Here To Eternity by Caitlin Doughty.
This bracing little volume takes you, the reader, on a world tour in search of ‘the good death.’ Or really, the good grief – Doughty focuses on the funerary and mourning customs of many different cultures. I’m not sure exactly why, but I have found books on death and funerary customs more helpful to me in my bereavement than books on grief. This book is also beautifully illustrated with evocative line drawings, which is a plus.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty.
Another by Doughty, this time a coming-of-age memoir. Doughty grows up in Hawaii, where she is terrified after witnessing a gruesome accidental death. She can’t stop thinking about it, so she decides to make a career of it, starting at Westwind Crematorium, and ultimately moving on to mortuary school.
Death, An Oral History by Casey Jarman.
Jarman spent a year talking to everyone from bereavement counselors to artists about their experiences with death and bereavement:
Even after finishing this project, I haven’t “gotten over” death. I’m pretty sure there’s no getting over it. But in talking to people who have found ways through, under, and around it, I’m measurably less terrified than I used to be. While I edited interviews for length and clarity, it was important to me to let these conversations roam free. My goal is not to indulge in a cheeky metaphor about the complexity of death itself – which truly will not be compartmentalized – but to subvert the now-ubiquitous TED Talk paradigm of tidy stories fit for on-the-go consumption.
I enjoyed this book, and its varied perspectives. Recommended.
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, by Sheryl Sandberg.
Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, wrote this book after her husband died suddenly. While it has many excellent suggestions, it suffers from some of the same problems of Sandberg’s book on women and leadership in the workplace, Lean In. Many people criticized Lean In for not seeming to countenance that leaning in is highly dependent on things like access to childcare; Option B also assumes that reaching out is always the right answer, and that everyone will receive the same response to asking for help that she did as a straight married woman. However, her focus on making a decision to recover and thrive was one I found interesting and helpful.
The Grief Recovery Handbook by John James and Russell Friedman.
A very step-by step, action-oriented approach to grief with writing exercises. I enjoyed the straightforward, active approach, but ultimately I opted not to follow through with the exercises, which I felt focused on closure over continuing bonds. YMMV.
The Five Invitations, by Frank Ostaseski.
Ostaseski is one of the founders of San Francisco’s Zen Hospice Project, and this book contains his lessons for living learned from decades spent with the very ill and dying.
These books were suggested by friends & community members in response to this list:
Second Firsts: Learning How To Live, Laugh, and Love Again, by Christina Rasmussen.
What’s Your Grief Podcast – occasional podcast by hosts Litsa Williams and Eleanor Haley, covering everything from the holidays to dating after bereavement.
Grief Out Loud This podcast comes from The Dougy Center, one of the best centers serving bereaved children and adults in the US. It is excellent. I highly recommend it.
Terrible, Thanks For Asking, a podcast on grief and bereavement.
Where’s The Grief?
Griefcast: Funny People Talking About Grief
An individual podcast episode from New York Times’ The Daily: “What If There’s No Such Thing As Closure?.”” It’s about the social scientist Pauline Boss’ work on the concept of “ambiguous loss.” Think about when we lose someone we had a difficult relationship with, or the loss of a parent who is an active addict or alcoholic, or a missing person. Particularly important during COVID when many people’s rituals of saying goodbye or memorializing are disrupted.
Esther Perel on Grief This is an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, ‘On with Kara Swisher.’ Swisher is a tech journalist, so this is an unusual topic for this podcast. Swisher brought on Perel to discuss grief after the death of a member of the podcast production team, Blakeney Schick. She died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 40.
Blogs, Websites, And Other Resources
Refuge in Grief, Megan Devine. Her “Rules at Impact” for surviving early grief are excellent.
Grief Healing Blog
Grief Beyond Belief - A site with grief resources for atheists and agnostics.
Sudden.org Sudden and ‘out-of-order’ deaths are devastating, and different from the kinds of expected losses when a person dies after a normal lifespan. This site is about the specific experience of sudden bereavement.
Alliance of Hope is an organization that helps people bereaved by suicide.
GRASP Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing is an organization that helps people who have lost someone due to substance abuse.
SAVE Bereavement support for those who experience the loss of a loved one to suicide.
How The Brain Responds To Grief Can Change Who We Are, April Reese, Aeon. “At times in those first hours, days and weeks after his death, it was hard to breathe. I couldn’t concentrate. I forgot things. Fatigue was a constant, no matter how much I slept.”
Walking With My Grief, Vanessa Pamela, Autostraddle. “I didn’t really want to go walking with my grief today. I guess I never really want to hang out with my grief… who does? But I am here.”
Grief and Bereavement Guidance Around COVID-19, from the Columbia University Center For Complicated Grief, 2020.
Bereaved Families Are The ‘Secondary Victims’ of COVID-19, Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News, August 2020.
How The Coronavirus Has Changed The Process of Grieving, Lucy Selman, The Conversation, April 2020. Suggestions for bereaved people who can’t have funerals or gather with friends and family.
We’re Not Ready For This Kind Of Grief, Amitha Kalaichandran, The Atlantic, April 13, 2020. About the unique features of grief from the coronavirus pandemic.
How Coronavirus Has Transformed The Grieving Process, Lucy Selman, The Conversation, May 2020.
The Space Between Mourning and Grief, Claire Wilmot, The Atlantic, June 8, 2016. “Social media has made it easy to share condolences after a death—but it hasn’t led to an online culture that’s more sensitive about loss.”
The Secret Life of Grief, Derek Thompson, The Atlantic Monthly, December 3, 2013. “My mom’s cancer and the science of resilience.”
What Ancient Cultures Teach Us About Grief, Mourning And Continuity Of Life, Daniel Wojcik and Robert Dobler, The Conversation, November 1, 2017. One of my favorite topics: grief in America is harsh and the bereaved are expected to be “done” with it and back to work almost instantly. That’s not how it’s worked throughout history, nor is it how it works throughout the world. It’s also just…not how it works.
Understanding How Grief Weakens the Body, Cari Romm, The Atlantic Monthly, September 11, 2014
Our Strange, Unsettled History of Mourning, By Andrea DenHoed, The New Yorker, February 3, 2016
The Rise of the Artisanal Funeral, Rebecca Mead, The New Yorker, November 23, 2015
Why Grief Is A Series of Expansions And Contractions, Joanne Cacciatore, June 29, 2017. A Buddhist perspective from Tricycle magazine.
Henrietta, the tale of a radical funeral director who smuggled slaves to freedom in funeral processions, by Kaitlyn Greenidge in Damn Joan, 2017.
Why Sensing The Dead Is Perfectly Normal, And Even Helpful, Simon McCarthy-Jones, The Connection. On how loved ones live on in our minds, and the value of continuing bonds with those who have died.
Quest for Solace, by Matt Crossman in ESPN-W.
All The Things That Remind Me Of Her, by Matt Zoller-Seitz, Slate.
What A Year Of Grief Taught Me About Monuments And Memorials, Ric Kasini Kadour, Hyperallergic.
There Are No Five Stages Of Grief, Andy Kopsa, New York Times.
For Those In Grief, Talking To A Dead Loved One Is Good For Your Mental Health (And Totally Normal), Adryan Corcione, Teen Vogue
A paper on preliminary results from patients being treated with the Complicated Grief Treatment Method mentioned in the Grief Recovery Methods section.
M. Katherine Shear, M.D., Ellen Frank, Ph.D., Edna Foa, Ph.D., Christine Cherry, M.S., Charles F. Reynolds, III, M.D., Joni Vander Bilt, M.P.H., and Sophia Masters, B.S. Published online: September 01, 2001 Link: https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.158.9.1506
A good overview of how professionals contemporary attitudes toward grief and bereavement, including the difference between “normal” and “complicated” grief. Note: professionals’ ideas about nearly every aspect of psychiatry has changed radically over the last 100 years. Nothing is the last word, and your lived experience is more important than anyone’s theory.
ZISOOK, S., & SHEAR, K. (2009). Grief and bereavement: what psychiatrists need to know. World Psychiatry, 8(2), 67–74.
Can’t stop thinking about your loss? Can’t stop thinking that there will be more losses now? Researchers wanted to know if this common bereavement phenomenon was linked to avoidance of other reminders of the loss, like pictures of the person who died. Why are they interested in that? It turns out that avoiding pictures, places you’ve been together, or other reminders, are correlated with worse moods, depression, etc. What they found was that the constant thinking + the avoidance did go together.
Eisma, M. C., Schut, H. A. W., Stroebe, M. S., van den Bout, J., Stroebe, W., & Boelen, P. A. (2014). Is Rumination after Bereavement Linked with Loss Avoidance? Evidence from Eye-Tracking. PLoS ONE, 9(8), e104980. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0104980
Disenfranchised grief happens when a person dies and that person’s family or community may not recognize or approve of your relationship with that person. It’s common among LGBT people but can happen with other relationships as well. It can include being left out of the obituary, excluded from planning or participating fully in funeral rituals, and being excluded in planning for a person’s legacy.
Grief and Bereavement Among LGBT People
How Death and Dying Changed My Perspective on LGBT Rights, Caleb Wilde, a funeral director.
Grief and Mourning: Lesbian Widow Finds No Support in Group Grief Healing Blog.
Grief Recovery Methods & Grief Therapy Modalities
In my reading I came across several grief therapy modalities that are well-established enough that professionals can seek certifications in that particular grief therapy method. Among them are The Grief Recovery Method and Complicated Grief Treatment.
The Grief Therapy Method involves a process of walking through a review of a relationship with a person you’ve lost, culminating in writing them a letter that closes with goodbye. The creators of the method also wrote a book, The Grief Recovery Handbook.
The Center for Complicated Grief produces a handbook for therapists who are treating patients with complicated grief. The method involves retelling the story of the death out loud, recording it, and relistening to it between sessions with a therapist, among other things.
There are many other grief recovery modalities, of course. Personal note: I did not use either of these modalities. I objected to the insistence in Grief Recovery Method that all letters to the person you’ve lost end with ‘Goodbye.’ I actually don’t want to say goodbye. Complicated Grief Therapy, with its repeated retellings and relistenings, is not something that I personally would engage in.
EMDR for Traumatic Grief EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s typically used as a trauma therapy but some therapists are using it with clients, particularly when grief presents with PTSD-like symptoms.
Updated March 25, 2022