Books on Grief

The following books on Grief, Loss, Death, and Dying comprised a good portion of the research put into writing these pages. If it is on this page, it is well-worth mentioning. Tess (the author of this section) wrote summaries for the ones she read, and there are a smattering more at the bottom, without summaries, that are also worth mentioning.

Book on Dying

On Living, by Kerry Egan

In this readable and emotional text, a hospice chaplain alternates between sharing her dying patients’ stories and the lessons we can learn from them. The power of meaning-making, faith, love, and honesty come up over and over again as Egan asks readers to consider the act of dying to be just that – an act. What we do with it is up to us.

On Death and Dying, by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

This classic text was one of the first written with the intention of sharing stories from dying people, in their own words. Written by a doctor who taught a course for many years about what we can learn from dying patients, this book includes excerpts from interviews with dying people, as well as an overview of the 5 stages of grief. These stages, since expanded, criticized, and debunked by some, document the progression of states dying people have from denial to anger to bargaining to depression to acceptance.

Enjoy Every Sandwich, by Lee Lipsenthal MD

A distinguished physician finds out he is dying of cancer and continues a journey he’s been practicing for years: living fully with the knowledge that we are all dying. Includes descriptions of meditative and transcendental experiences.

Graceful Exits, by Sushila Blackman

The brief but powerful death stories of many learned and enlightened humans highlights some commonalities across time, space, and spiritual practices: Great beings do not “die” as an activity, but rather pass on to another realm, if at all. They all saw their death in advance and prepare for it.

The True Work of Dying by Bernard and Schneider

By examining the parallels between birth and death, the authors (hospice nurses) describe the behaviors, breathing patterns, movements, verbalizations, and rituals around death for those who want to learn more about planning a “good death” with meaning and as little pain as possible. There is also an extensive list of common end-of-life physical ailments and treatments for them, including natural responses. Has some religious/angelic overtones, but overall a compassionate guide for those involved in hospice care-giving.

The Five Invitations, by Frank Ostaseski

A very readable text from a Zen practitioner and founder of the San Francisco Zen Hospice Center. From sitting at the bedsides of hundreds of compassionate, “good” deaths, Ostaseski shares 5 lessons from the dying that any living person can interact with now.

Books on Death

The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker

Nobel Prize-winning philosophical text that examines how the fear and denial of death leads humans to create culture.

Here is a 9-minute summary video.

Nine Years Uunder, by Sheri Booker

In a breezy look at one community’s funeral rituals, a young woman comes of age in a funeral home in Baltimore. Not as lyrically written as other memoirs, but an interesting slice-of-life look nonetheless.

Books on Grief, Loss, and combinations

The Psychology of Grief, by Richard Gross

A small user-friendly book about the what, how, and whys of grief. Includes explanations of dominant grief theories as well as thorough explanations of how grieving correlates to gender, culture, age, kind of loss, attachment style, and others.

A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis

In the year after his wife’s death of cancer, Narnia author CS Lewis wrote his grief down in a journal that he later published under a pen name. He addresses the confusion and searching of grief, as well as the doubts it cast his understanding of God. Very easy to read, and captures some simple and powerful truths about the anguish of not getting the thing you want the most.

Getting Grief Right, by Patrick O’Malley

A realistic introduction and guide to developing one’s “grief narrative,” as opposed to seeking closure for something that doesn’t end. We grieve because we love, and we continue to grieve because we continue to live. O’Malley describes how grief for his infant son who died influenced his work with clients whose grief stories did not fit into an easy 5 stages or recognizable path. Also contains instructions on how to run a grief support group that follows the 3 steps of narrative grief storytelling: Identify and share attachments, talk about the death itself, describe life as it continues.

Good Grief, by Granger Westberg

A very quick introduction for grievers with light Christian undertones. In contrast to the 5 stages of dying, Westberg introduces 10 stages of grief.

The Long Goodbye, by Megan O’Rourke

A stunningly beautiful memoir into the author’s experience with her mother’s death from cancer and the year of intense grieving afterwards. Includes the author’s summaries of reading lots of other grief texts. Brain Pickings summary here.

The Grief Recovery Handbook, by John James and Russell Friedman

The authors of this book believe that grief is experienced as a wound that needs healing through deliberate choices. The recovery path involves a series of steps aimed at illuminating and healing from loss, grief, and incomplete emotional communication. All kinds of losses are validated and discussed.

A Grace Disguised, by Jerry Sittser

A moving grief memoir about the author’s experience after losing his mother, wife, and daughter in the same car accident. Includes Christian meditations.

Rituals for Life, Love, and Loss, by McRae-McMahon

Accessible rituals for a variety of life and grief experiences.

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion

In one year, esteemed writer Joan Didion lost her husband of 40 years to a heart attack, and nearly lost her only daughter.. In the first year after this loss, Didion explores the surreality of losing stability and sanity.

It’s Ok that You’re Not Ok, by Megan Devine

A thorough look into why traditional approaches to grief are nonsense, and how to reduce the added guilt that comes from shame around not grieving well. Gives real, tangible advice and exercises in short, digestible sections that will soothe the early griever.

Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss, by Stephanie Wittels Wachs

Harris Wittels, the subject of his sister’s grief memoir, was a prolific comedian who died from an accidental heroin overdose. Chapters alternate between “before” and “after” her brother’s death, with humor and pathos beautifully interwoven. The book chronicles a difficult, stigmatized death and the pain experienced by those he left behind. Recommended for fans of comedy, Parks and Recreation, and learning more about the spiraling effects of drug use on users and family members.

Grief Works, by Julia Samuel

Julia Samuel, a longtime UK grief psychotherapist, describes 14 case studies of grieving clients, separated into sections around the relationship – losing a parent, child, sibling, and self. Each section is accompanied by Samuel’s reflections on the commonalities and differences among the grief stories in each section. The final chapter, “What helps,” provides useful concepts for those supporting grievers.

The Body Keeps the Score, by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk

Trauma specialist Dr. Bessel van der Kolk meticulously describes the connection between unresolved trauma and grief to mental and physical ailments.