By Rebecca Renner
Updated January 16, 2019
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When you lose a loved one, it can feel like the world is closing in around you and that no one understands quite what you’re going through. Many people have suffered that kind of loss, and some have put those strong emotions to use by writing good books to read about grief. Loss has helped fuel art and literature through the ages. Poets from Edgar Allan Poe to Robert Frost have commemorated their feelings about death and lost loved ones in verse.

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Scientists have also studied the effects of grief. Some theorize that we experience grief in stages, which you will be able to understand better by reading about them in a narrative. People who are grieving deny the loss that happened, get angry, or become depressed. Experiencing grief through someone else’s eyes, however, might help you process your emotions—or at least give you a little reassurance that you’re not alone.

Because of this, the “grief memoir” is a popular genre. In grief memoirs, the author narrates the events of their loss and what they did to weather their grief. Some narrators make drastic changes in their lives, like traveling across the world. Others become more introspective, go to therapy, or develop new relationships to fill the voice left by the old one that is no more.

Still other authors use grief to power their fiction. The loss of a loved one remains a staple in many genres, from literary fiction to romance, because we as readers can relate to the experience so strongly.

Books about grief can offer refuge and guidance to help you endure, but more importantly, they’ll remind you that you’re not alone. Pick up one of these titles to join an author in his or her healing or experience the emotional release of mourning with the characters in a novel. Whatever kind of book you choose, it will remind you that we’re all together in learning to live again after a loss.

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1

Joan Didion is one of 20th century nonfiction’s most timeless writers. She’s also an expert in putting the complexity of grief and loss into words. In 2003, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, died of a heart attack. He had been her partner for more than 40 years, and so his loss came as a complete shock to Didion. In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion lays bare the barrage of emotions—and the changes in the way we think—that come with the sudden death of a loved one. A fog comes over her. There is doubt and expectation. But Didion resists her melancholic urges, instead contemplating her formerly “fixed idea” of death and memory.

To buy: $14, amazon.com.

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2

The hawk is an elegant but deadly animal. Following her father’s death, Helen MacDonald learned how to train one. In this mix of memoir and lyrical but informational nonfiction, MacDonald details how she weathered her grief while learning about one of nature’s most extraordinary creatures. Through the process of forging a relationship with and training her new goshawk, MacDonald also gets closer to the memory of her father.

To buy: $15, amazon.com.

Amazon.com

3

From the author of the much-talked-about novel Little Fires Everywhere, this novel explores the aftermath of the death of a beloved daughter. Lydia Lee’s parents were devoted to her, but when she is found dead, their small family starts coming apart. Everything I Never Told You not only delves into the intimate heartache a family experiences after a death, but it is also layered with the nuances of its time, the 1970s, and how interracial marriages like the Lees’ are not without their own struggles. For a debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, is dimensional and intricate. You will find much more than grief and solace in its pages.

To buy: $13, amazon.com.

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4

If your mother has passed away, you need to read Motherless Daughters. Even though this edifying nonfiction book was published more than a decade ago, Edelman’s wisdom still rings true. For many people, mothers are a guiding force, and without them, we’re lost. Edelman believes that people, especially women, try to fill the void left by missing mothers by creating a new comfort structure around themselves, like a “cocoon.” If you’ve been feeling the need to fill the emptiness your mother left behind, take heart that you’re not alone. You will find comfort in this book.

To buy: $14, amazon.com.

Amazon.com

5

You may recognize this title as the 2006 tear-jerker movie by the same name, but did you know it was a novel first? In P.S. I Love You, after Holly’s husband Gerry passes away, she finds a stash of letters he wrote to her before he died. These letters help Holly ease into life without the person she thought of as her one, true love. Gradually, she learns to love again. If you’re in need of an ugly cry, this is the book for you.

To buy: $8, amazon.com.