My dad, my favorite person, died January 11, 2019. One of our shared passions was our love for reading. I used to stress myself out with my annual goal to read 50 books a year. In Decembers, I’d be in major catch-up mode trying to meet my self-imposed deadline. It would drive my bookworm dad nuts. His philosophy was reading should be for leisure, and if you attach a deadline to it, it adds a level of stress to an otherwise pleasurable pastime. When he died early this year, so did my annual commitment to read 50 books. I didn’t have the energy to pursue this goal while I tried to adjust to my life without him. I let the fact that he hated my goal-oriented approach to reading justify my letting go of this stressful tradition. So while I don’t have 50 books to share for 2019, to honor my dad and also possibly help someone in need, I decided to share 10 books that helped me with my grief journey.
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Michelle Obama’s Becoming reminded me that I am not alone.
Grief is such an isolating emotion. No one will feel exactly what you’re feeling. They don’t have the relationship you have with the person you lost. And yet, when you read about other people’s journeys with loss, it makes you feel less alone. I’d argue that reading about someone’s pain from the privacy of your own reading can be more healing than talking to someone who is sharing their own story. You can honor your own feelings without having to exert your limited energy on reciprocating words of comfort. And that’s what First Lady Michelle Obama’s Becoming did for me. By sharing about the loss of her father in her memoir, even ever so briefly, it gave me comfort. That as alone as I can feel sometimes, I’m not.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is an unflinching and heartfelt retelling of caring for dying parents.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant is filled with gallows humor and insights captured by the author/cartoonists during her experience of caring for her dying parents. I recommend avoiding the ebooks so you can fully appreciate the illustrations of this graphic memoir. Humorous, honest, touching, brutal, clever.
The Untethered Soul encouraged me to let the grief waves wash over me without resistance.
“That which is holding you down can become a powerful force that raises you up. You just have to be willing to take the ascent.”– Michael Singer, Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond
The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself showed up on my Instagram feed as recommendations from a couple of friends I followed. I checked it out with a skeptical heart. Sometimes when literature is too spiritual, I have a hard time connecting and suspending disbelief. Maybe I was finally ready for a book like The Untethered Soul. It aligns with my Buddhist upbringing and reminds me of what my dad often tried to teach me. That we are all going to die. That one of the purposes of life is to enjoy and learn from your experiences. This book encouraged me to not try to avoid my grief. To observe it. To feel it. And the more we let it wash it over us without resistance, the faster it can pass.
The timing of my reading I’m Proud of You felt like a gift from the Universe.
The timing of when I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers entered my life felt like a gift from the Universe. My bestie randomly gifted me this book over breakfast. A few days later, while I was still reading just the beginning of the book, my dad suffered a stroke. I continued reading this book every night after spending thirteen-hour days at the hospital. I finished reading it on the airplane on my first trip back to North Carolina after the stroke. It felt like Mr. Rogers himself was holding my hand through the first few weeks after dad suffered his stroke. It’s a beautiful retelling of a friendship between the author and Fred Rogers.
The Book of Joy is a great read for coping with the pitfalls of life.
“The more time you spend thinking about yourself, the more suffering you will experience.”Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
Book of Joy was a random find of mine. I was scrolling my library’s list of available downloads to keep me company on a trip to Texas when I found the Book of Joy. This book is a recording of a long conversation between Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. It touches on many painful universal conditions. Like grief, envy, and anger. I found it so profound that a book about joy focused on the opposing forces of joy.
Joy Luck Club offered me a moment of comforting synchronicity.
Nine months after my dad passed away, I was scheduled to lead a discussion about Joy Luck Club with my local book club. I dutifully read this Amy Tan novel, already indebted to this book. When I was a teen, the movie Joy Luck Club gave me a sense of belonging I hadn’t yet experience until finding Asian peers in college. So I read the novel about a group of Chinese women immigrating to the US, finding each other, and bonding over their Joy Luck Club.
One evening, I felt the familiar sensation of grief squeezing my heart. I started talking to my dad. Dad, if you’re there. Can you give me some kind of sign that you’re around? As expected, I only heard deafening silence. So I sighed and tried to distract myself from the pain by reading Joy Luck Club to prepare for book club. The chapter I opened up started about Jing-Mei’s jade necklace that her late mother gifted her. It described how the necklace connects them still after her mother’s passing. I wear a jade pendant gifted to me from my dad; I hardly ever take it off. This small moment of synchronicity gave me so much comfort.
It’s a wonderful book in general. I recommend reading this especially if you want to reflect on your parent’s sacrifices, sisterhood, motherhood, and learn more about Chinese culture.
Books I read prior to my dad’s stroke that helped me with my grief even when their words were no longer vivid in my memory
“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson
The following list of books helped me with my grief are books I found helpful despite not being recent reads of mine.
Wild is the popular grief memoir of Cheryl Strayed about her hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as she mourns her mother’s death. I actually gave this book to my dad to read and he liked it too.
Year of Magical Thinking is a stream-of-consciousness sharing of Joan Didion’s grieving her husband’s sudden death. It’s been years since I’ve read this book but its wispy lingering in my memories served as another reminder that grief is the price for love.
Blue Nights is another beautiful grief memoir by Joan Didion. This one honoring the loss of her daughter.
Man’s Search for Meaning should be required reading for everyone. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl survived four concentration camps during WWII, but he lost his family. His memoir offers his poignant insights on how to cope with loss by finding meaning.
“But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
And this concludes my list of books that helped with my grief journey.
You don’t have to be grieving to find these books worth reading, but if you are grieving, I’m so sorry. I hope these books will help you find moments of peace during your journey. Were there any books that helped you with your own personal experience of loss? I’d love your recommendations. Please feel free to share in the comments.
// I find healing with words. My mom who was never much of a reader is enjoying another pastime she shares with my dad. And that’s gardening.
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