Recommendations by Karen C

red alarm clock hitting floor and shatteringStop all the clocks …
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
~ From “Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden

I was looking forward to writing my summer Shelf Talk post because I knew I had the freedom to write on any topic – for the first time, I was not going to focus on a culturally significant day, week or month of social awareness. Then, I looked closely at our blog schedule and realized with a sinking heart that I was scheduled to post my next blog on August 23 – the day my younger brother was killed in Germany by a drunk driver 29 years ago.

This year isn't a significant anniversary – it is just a date, and in some ways, an arbitrary one. For me, he died around 2 a.m. on Sunday, August 23, 1992, but for my aunts, uncles and grandmothers, it was still Saturday, August 22 when my Dad called our family in Canada to share the news. Yet, August 23 will always be a significant date to me, and I cannot ever go through the day without my personal loss touching me in some way.

Grief is like that: it takes ownership of specific days or whole seasons; it can overwhelm and consume us; it clings to things like songs, smells and photographs; and it weaves itself in and around our days so that we can't help but carry it through our lives. Grief can unexpectedly remind us of its presence like a wild windstorm or gently brush past us like a summer breeze.

When my brother first died, I read everything anyone gave me about dealing with my grief – how to survive such heart-wrenching loss, how to recognize the various stages of grief, and how to cope with the milestones as they passed. In the years since, I've come to realize that everyone's grief is different:  the "stages" of grief do not follow a particular linear order, pattern or duration, and just because I've lived within the denial or anger stage for a time before moving out of it, there's no guarantee that I won't find myself there again tomorrow, next week or next month.

Even as we cannot truly understand our own or another's grief after the death of a loved one, many of us do not realize that we often experience grief for losses other than death. Living through the COVID-19 Pandemic, we are all experiencing some form of grief this year. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), we may be experiencing "ambiguous grief" over losses such as the anticipated celebration of an event in our lives:  a milestone birthday; a graduation; the birth of a new grandbaby … CMHA explains that those ambiguous losses - including our overall sense of stability or safety; social contacts and a feeling of connection; confidence in the future or even feeling in control of our own lives - are especially difficult and often result in unresolved feelings because there has been no ritual closure, no clear language to help us acknowledge them as losses, and sometimes, not even a specific date to remind us when those losses occurred.

None of us can stop all the clocks or pack away the sun, moon and stars.  However, we can acknowledge our losses, give ourselves space and time to grieve, and eventually allow ourselves to believe there can be good again. While it will take a while for publishers to catch up with our need to process our Pandemic-related, ambiguous grief, the CMHA’s article, “Loss and Grief During the COVID-19 Pandemic” helped me understand how coping with traditional grief relates to coping with Pandemic-related ambiguous grief. The Library has lots of resources that I have found helpful in understanding and processing my own grief. Here are a few titles about grief and grieving in general - I have edited the descriptions provided by the publishers to highlight what distinguishes each book in the following list:

 

Books on Grieving for Adults

Opening to Grief by Claire B. Willis book jacket coverOpening to Grief: Finding Your Way from Loss to Peace by Claire B. Willis

During the Pandemic, we lost hundreds of thousands of lives around the world. Many of us have lost our livelihoods. All of us have lost our familiar, daily routines and textures of work, family, and community - and the losses are not over. Opening to Grief explores the deep truth that grief and love are richly intertwined. Because we love, we grieve. And when we fully feel our sorrow, we open to loving ourselves and other beings more deeply.  With the demeanor and tone of a loving friend, the authors offer an invitation to grieve fully, to turn toward our emotions and experiences however they arise, and to follow our own paths toward healing.

Alone Together by Jennifer Haupt Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort During the Time of COVID-19 by Jennifer Haupt

Alone Together is a collection of essays, poems, and interviews that serves as a lifeline for negotiating how to connect and thrive during this stressful time of isolation. It also offers a historical perspective that will remain relevant for years to come. The overarching theme focuses on how this age of isolation and uncertainty is changing us as individuals and a society.

 

It's OK that You're Not OK by Megan Devine book jacket coverIt's OK That You're Not OK:  Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture that Doesn't Understand by Megan Devine

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 - Devine writes with deep insight about the unspoken truths of loss, love, and healing. She disabuses us of 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.

Healing the Adult Sibling's Heart by Alan D. Wolfelt book jacket coverHealing the Adult Sibling's Heart by Alan D. Wolfelt

Compassionate and heartfelt, this collection offers 100 practical ideas to help understand and accept the passing of a brother or sister as a way of practicing self-healing. The principles of grief and mourning are clearly defined, accompanied by action-oriented tips for embracing bereavement. Whether a sibling has died as a young or older adult or the death was sudden or anticipated, this resource provides a healthy approach to dealing with the aftermath.

 

Books on Grieving for Teens

Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer et al book jacket coverModern Loss:  Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome. by Rebecca Soffer, Gabrielle Birkner, and many others

At a time when we mourn public figures and national tragedies with hashtags, where intimate posts about loss go viral and we receive automated birthday reminders for dead friends, it's clear we are navigating new terrain without a road map. Most of us have always had a difficult time talking about death and sharing our grief. We're awkward and uncertain; we avoid, ignore, or even deny feelings of sadness; we offer platitudes; we send sympathy bouquets whittled out of fruit. This wise and often funny book offers the insights of the Modern Loss community to help us cry, laugh, grieve, identify, and above all empathize. Not just for teens!

When a Friend Dies by Marilyn E. GootmanWhen a Friend Dies:  A Book for Teens About Grieving & Healing by Marilyn E. Gootman

The death of a friend is a wrenching event for anyone at any age. Teenagers especially need help coping with this painful loss. This sensitive book answers questions grieving teens often have, like "How should I be acting?" "Is it wrong to go to parties and have fun?" and "What if I can't handle my grief on my own?"

 

Grief Recovery for Teens by Coral Popowitz book jacket coverGrief Recovery for Teens: Letting Go of Painful Emotions with Body-Based Practices by Coral Popowitz

If you lose someone you love or are close to, you probably feel a number of emotions:  sadness, anger, loneliness, or fear. These are all normal feelings, and it's important that you have someone to talk to, whether it's a family member, friend, or counsellor. But did you know that grief can also affect your body? The brain and the body are much more connected than you might think. This compassionate guide explains how your mind can affect the way you feel physically and teaches body-oriented skills to help your body heal after experiencing loss.

 

Books on Grieving for Children

The Invisible String by Patrice Karst book jacket coverThe Invisible String by Patrice Karst

The Invisible String offers a very simple approach to overcoming loneliness, separation, or loss with an imaginative twist that children can easily understand and embrace:  we are connected to our loved ones by an Invisible String made of love, and even though we can't see it with our eyes, we can feel it deep in our hearts. This heartwarming picture book for all ages explores questions about the intangible yet unbreakable connections between us and opens up deeper conversations about love.

When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny Brown book jacket coverWhen Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny Brown

No one can really understand death, but to children, the passing away of a loved one can be very confusing and troublesome. This is true whether the loss is a family member, friend, or pet. Topics covered include: What Does Alive Mean? Why Does Someone Die? What Does Dead Mean? What Comes After Death? Feelings about Death * Saying Goodbye * Keeping Customs * Ways to Remember Someone

After Life by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox book jacket coverAfter Life:  Ways We Think About Death by Merrie-Ellen Wilcox

Why do we die? Why can't we live forever? What happens to us after death? Moving between science and culture, this book takes a straightforward look at these and other questions long taboo in our society. By showing the fascinating, diverse ways in which we understand death, both today and throughout our history, the book also shines a light on what it is to be human. The final chapter is about grief, both as a universal human experience and uniquely experienced by each person.