I have been asked by OurWomensWrites to write about reading and grief. It was a joy to write about one of my biggest passions, and I hope I’ll continue to do so for TheGriefReality! This is the post I wrote, but please visit OurWomensWrites to show your support for their blog 🙂
As a writer, I have always loved words. As a reader, I have always loved the way they knit together, and the worlds they form. I love the sense of folding up, tucking myself away from the world, and losing my day to a beautifully written novel.
I lost my mother in 2018. She was (is) a remarkable woman. Largely, my love of books and writing was nurtured by her, as were many aspects of my personality. She loved reading herself, and it was not unusual to find us together reading books and drinking tea.
My first book that shaped my early grief days is The Forty Rules of Love: A Book of Rumi, by Elif Shafak. It was a lovely, charming read which helped me to plant those little seeds of self-love back into myself, and to helped me to develop my world view again. It teaches the importance of leading with love, even if you haven’t been handled with care yourself. It is kind to the reader; gently Shafak picks you up and guides you to the page you’ll be dropped off at.
I was given this book from my friend, who gave me a self-care grief package. It was lovely to read of the two contrasting worlds of Rumi and Ella Rubenstein, and how many parallels can be drawn, and ultimately, lessons can be learnt. If you don’t know Rumi, he taught about love in the 13th Century. His teachings are needed, especially in the current world we find ourselves in.
I would like to warn you, that if you have lost someone to cancer, or if this is a triggering topic, this does crop up within this book. Shafak deals with the subject with grace and decorum, as we would expect from this splendid novel, but it can be disarming. I wish I had known this before reading, but it has a place on my shelf nontheless.
Another book I did cling to, was The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold. I’m sure many of you have read it, but it deals with the concept of death, and the afterlife. I still am heavily shaped by this book, as it has certainly directed how I view my mum now. We follow Susie as she watches her family from the afterlife, and bears witness to the pain they go through, but also the joy as well. Ultimately this is a gripping read. My heart is in my chest every time I read it.
It truly can bring comfort; however, it does contain graphic details around sexual assault in the first chapter.
Those are the typical grief books that you would expect of a griever’s bookshelf. I think there is a lot of expectation for a reader to be overcome by death, and to let it fill our shelves, when actually, all some of us want is sweet escapism.
When my lovely mum was truly ill, I would still curl up next to bed with a cup of tea. I read a book which she had loved when I was growing up. It is called Clan of the Cave Bears, by Jean M. Auel.
As a writer, the writing sometimes makes me cringe, and the repetition and sometimes slow pace of the novel (and the series) used to make me sigh.
Yet, it remains firmly in my list of favourite books.
Jean creates a Neolithic world of early humans, mammoths and Neanderthals to absolute perfection. At her time of writing in the 90s, this was the product of research and creativity, which intertwined to immerse the reader in early human life. The books are chunky, but there has always been a level of comfort for me when I settle down into a 700 page book. This book follows Ayla, a Homo Sapien who grows up with Neanderthals. This book speaks upon so many topics; gender politics, gender roles, living in harmony with different groups, and overall it challenges our perception of early human life.
I love these books. At the time when I was so vulnerable, mentally standing beside Ayla as she surveyed her world, I felt powerful. I felt stronger as a young woman who no longer had her mother in this crazy world. It is safe to say I saw a lot of myself in her.
These novels were popular in the 90s, and I can absolutely understand why. It is also heartwarming because these books were my Mum’s. She used to tell me how one day she found me scribbling with a pen all over them (When I was very little I’d like to add). I smile sadly whenever I see byro pen scratched carelessly into the covers.
I would love to take the moment to give a warning for sexual assault, just in case this is a potential trigger for anyone who may wish to read it.
And for my final grief book; Watership Down by Richard Adams. I first read this book when I was thirteen years old, and if I’m honest, I loved it, but sped through it. The month after my mum passed away, the BBC released a TV show on it. My sister and I watched it, and I’d often find myself choked up at the story. I guess I saw a lot of my own story in the upward battle of the rabbits. They never seem to get a break!
I reread this book in 2019-2020. Not as quickly as I used to, I think before I read it in a day or two. As most people who grieve may relate to, it took me such a long time to get an attention or concentration span back.
This is another case of escapism. No hard topics. Just rabbits finding their way home, and on the way finding friends, and combatting tragedy with an overarching sense of stoic hope.
They find their place in the world, and they find their peace. To anyone who knows grief, this is an important reminder for us, too.
I would love to know if you have any specific books that helped ease your grief. If you do, please send them through on the Contact Us page, or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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