Our Recommended Book List for Grievers

Maybe it’s just us, but we keep seeing lists of books, such as Best Books of 2016, Bestsellers Lists, Books to Read in 2017, posts of what people learned in 2016, and their goals for future reading. We want to get in on this! As we look back on 2016, we realize that we learned many things and laughed often from reading. Below is our own unique list of books that have helped us in our healing. We have previously recommended some of these books in past blog posts and on our resources page but wanted to revisit a few and share some of our favorite parts and quotes. In no particular order…

It seems appropriate to start with this New York Times bestseller When Breath Becomes Air, which brought to the forefront the subject of death and dying and was groundbreaking in that it is from the perspective of the patient, or the person dying. Paul Kalanithi as both a physician and a patient contemplates, “What makes life worth living in the face of death?” At a young age, just like our sister, he was forced to face his own mortality. It is difficult for us to choose just a few favorite quotes, because surely we would be sued for copying the entire book. We previously discussed this book and others like it in our post "At Least America Is Reading About Death." Many can learn from his wise words and his insight into changing the medical field’s view of the dying and how to help them:

“Amid the tragedies and failures, I feared I was losing sight of the singular importance of human relationships, not between patients and their families but between doctor and patient. Technical excellence was not enough…..When there’s no place for the scalpel, words are the surgeon’s only tool.”

In Fly a Little Higher, Laura Sobiech brings us on her heart wrenching journey of her son’s battle against osteosarcoma which he unfortunately lost. We related to many parts of her book- the ups and downs of cancer, the scenes of her tight knit family dealing with such tragedy, the siblings' heartache, the awe of watching the patient face it all with such grace. When she talks of her children, she refers to them as “a team...and they worked best when together.”

Laura even allowed us to laugh a few times. One of those times was when she is talking about how people aren’t sure what to say and can’t imagine dying young. She says:

“I’d often fantasized about writing a tutorial entitled ‘What Not to Say.’ It would be very basic, just a couple of hard and fast rules:
1. If the sentence you are about to say starts with the phrase ‘have you’ or ‘should you’, don’t say it.
2. Unless you have had a child with the same disease and you’ve been through the exact same thing, don’t offer advice.
3. Don’t tell me about everyone you have ever known who has either battled cancer or died from cancer.
4. Don’t tell me to be grateful.”

This list should be printed and handed out to the masses. Thank you, Laura.

Not to give away too much of this novel, A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan, some great advice and insight comes after a death in the family. She deals with the brutality of having to return to work and the real world:

“One by one, the guests left my mom’s house. They promised to check in soon and made us promise to let them know if there was anything they could do. News flash: nobody is going to give you an assignment. Just do something.”

And we laughed out loud when the main character returns to work and is asked by a coworker if she received the Edible Arrangement: “‘Yeah, definitely.’ Translation: ‘Actually, not so much. Pineapple impaled on a toothpick doesn’t make anybody feel better, ever.’”

Nora McInerny Purmort’s It’s Okay to Laugh: (Crying is Cool Too) was just what we needed - to laugh during our grief. We related to her sarcasm and felt like we could be friends. She struggled with a run of terrible things that happened to her in a short period of time and shares it all in a very real way. There are too many good parts so you really just need to read it, but we loved the chapter where she discusses her relationships with her siblings. Of course, it is funny, and we appreciated the little tidbits like how she describes herself as a “knockoff of her sister...but taller.” When her husband entered hospice, she talks about how her siblings helped her and were with her:

“She [Nora’s sister] was ...perpetually cleaning my kitchen, raising my child, and giving me healthy pours of white wine to anesthetize me at night."
Her brothers were present too and you can sense the type of unwavering sibling support that they provided.:
"When I went to bed, I heard him [Nora's brother] saying good night to Aaron [Nora's husband]. 'It's okay, buddy,' he told him, 'I'll take care of them. You did good. You did real good... We learn as we get older to appreciate the people we love for who they are, and for how they love us.”

In The Rainbow Comes and Goes, Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, publish their correspondence over the course of a year in which they discuss their lives and losses, including Anderson’s father and brother. They talk about grief and death honestly, and their fears and hopes, as when Anderson writes: “I haven’t told you this before, but I’ve always assumed I would die at fifty because that is how old Daddy was when he died.” We related to Anderson explaining that he never expected to lose his brother, instead expecting to have more time together:

“My greatest regret is not making more of an effort to be closer to Carter, not talking with him about feelings or experiences we may have shared. Perhaps it would have made a difference in what happened to him. I always imagined we would be closer as adults, once we had lives of our own. I thought there was plenty of time.”

Yet, ultimately, knowing that “the rainbow comes and goes” - a phrase from Wordsworth - is what Gloria tells Anderson that she finds so reassuring:

“In every life, you have moments of blinding beauty and happiness, and then you land in a dark cave and there is no color, no sky. Then the rainbow returns, sometimes only briefly, but it always does come back. You have to believe that it will, even in the darkest of times. That belief is what is really important.”