People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad.
– Marcel Proust
When a family member or close friend dies, books can give comfort and understanding, guiding a reader through grief’s landscape. Over the years, and through many losses, I’ve found myself returning to the same set of books.
Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney and The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia – I originally bought these two books for my daughter when she was four, and we read them together when a close family friend died. Although some readers have slammed The Fall of Freddie the Leaf as too sentimental, my daughter loved the simple story and still rereads it when she’s grieving. My personal favorite though is the Stickney book, a fable about water bugs and what happens when one of them climbs up a lily stalk and vanishes from sight. How do the other bugs make sense of what’s happened?
The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, both by Joan Didion – Thoughtful, emotional reflections on coping with the loss of first her husband and then her daughter.
How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapters by Sherwin B. Nuland – This classic is blunt, detailed, and unsentimental, but surprisingly moving.
The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch – Essays that chronicle small-town life as told by an undertaker who is also a poet.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande – Recommended by my cousin, this book makes readers think hard on what we want for ourselves and our loved ones at life's end.
Gratitude by Oliver Sacks – Four essays written by this brilliant man in his final months.
Any books to add to this list? Please share them in the comments.