The holidays are a thorny time for people who are recently bereaved.
On the one hand, all the get-togethers supply a steady stream of company. Being surrounded by joyful revelers can sometimes feel lonelier than simply being alone.
Is it better to grieve with others or do it solo?
These books thoughtfully consider the options. They may not offer answers, but they're guaranteed to make readers feel less isolated.
‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ by Joan Didion
Didion broke new ground in 2005 with this chronicle of the aftermath of her husband's sudden death and the illness of her only daughter.
One of the challenges for Didion, who has previously used “research and reading” to cope with life's challenges, was that so few people had written of their experiences with grief, which increased her sense of aloneness.
She went on to create a community of readers who understood what she was talking about when she described, for example, the “vortex effect” of being pulled into powerful memories, triggered by the presence of familiar places and objects.
‘The Red Parts’ by Maggie Nelson
When the man who murdered her aunt is finally arrested and brought to trial three decades after the crime, Nelson and her family mourn the young woman all over again.
Nelson explores the paradoxical forces inside of her that tell her she is feeling “too much” or “not enough.”
Her previous belief that her family had grieved in “faulty” ways gives way to the discovery that mourning is complex and sometimes illogical, which brings her back to her family.
‘The Light of the World’ by Elizabeth Alexander
Poet Elizabeth Alexander was widowed without warning when her husband, Ficre, died of a heart attack while exercising.
As she travels her own path of mourning, she also becomes a guide to help her two sons through their own grief.
Comfort arrives over shared dinners as they begin making meals that combine the spices of Eritrea — Ficre's homeland — with his imagination as a professional chef.
‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers’ by Max Porter
Porter's novel follows a father of two sons who has just lost his wife.
The widower's desire for privacy puts him in conflict with those who want to comfort him.
He looks at the “orbiting grievers” who descend for the funeral with an almost anthropological eye, dividing them into: “the overwhelmed, the affectedly lackadaisicals, the nothing so fars, the overstayers, the new best friends of hers, of mine, of the boys.”
He wonders if they will leave him alone long enough to comprehend the “black space” of his own grief.
‘All at Sea’ by Decca Aitkenhead
Aitkenhead's partner Tony drowned while vacationing in Jamaica, leaving her to raise their two sons.
In her book, she writes that the tragic nature of Tony's death — which was covered in the news — appears to prolong the amount of time that people remain interested in her story.
To warrant their comfort, she feels she will be “obliged under the terms of some bizarre contractual barter to offer them the story in return.”
The alternative, she feels, would be to remain completely alone.