Saturday, March 7, 2009

Grief Journey through Books

(brought to you by Molly)

In July of 2006, I lost my only sibling to cancer. I felt like I was the only person on earth who had ever lost a brother - and I knew I was the only one on earth who had ever lost my brother. Over the next several months, I entered a mode of super-processing, where I turned inward and absorbed other people's experiences through books. Now, almost three years later, I am frustrated that I haven't been reading as much but have realized that it means I am much more present for the life outside my head, rather than the one inside.

As a society, we tend not to talk openly about the process of grieving, despite the fact that it is something everyone will experience eventually. In the spirit of bucking normal societal trends (hey, I work at an independent bookstore), I am dedicating this posting to books about death, dying, grief, and loss.

The only book I found addressing my specific loss was Surviving the Death of a Sibling: Living through Grief When an Adult Brother or Sister Dies by T.J. Wray (ISBN 9780609809808) . Using Kubler-Ross' model of the five stages of grief as a backbone, Wray shares her own grief experience and includes excerpts from others who lost a sibling to provide advice for moving through grief. I devoured the book in two days shortly after Kaleb's death but found that when I returned to it months later that it was more painful (but also more useful) because I had moved beyond "shock" and had started to experience the later stages of grief. There is a surprising lack of understanding for those of us who have experienced that loss and this book made me feel like someone (rather, lots of someones) understood the glacial tip of the iceberg of what it means to lose a sibling.

I also read Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' Tunnel and the Light: Essential Insights on Living and Dying (ISBN 9781569246900). Her many experiences in working with the dying provided me understanding of what my brother may have been going through in the couple of months preceding his death. Her writing style is engaging, her views on death and dying positive and inspiring, and I consider this a must-read for anyone who is alive and will eventually die.

Being a spiritual but non-religious person, I found Grieving Mindfully: A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss by Sameet Kumar (ISBN: 9781572244016) to be most helpful. The central theme in this book is that the grief journey is similar to a spiral staircase, moving upward from a central point rather than in a straight line. It does not negate the 5-stages of grief but rather can be used in tandem. It especially helped me make sense of the impact of anniversaries less obvious than just birth and death. It includes suggestions for meditation, writing prompts, and proposes that the best way to survive grief is to move gracefully through it rather than past it.

What are some books that helped you through a difficult time? Please feel free to post comments, offer suggestions, or simply share your stories. We're looking forward to hearing from you!

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