After Mack’s sudden death on New Year’s Eve 2012, I began to read widely from those who have walked this difficult path before us. I have found tremendous comfort in the wisdom, practical tools, and faith of those who learn to live with loss.
I will add to this list periodically but wanted to add some key books, online resources and groups that specialize in grief and in particular the loss of children.
A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis, 1961.
The personal journal of Lewis after the death of his wife Joy Davidman. Interesting to note, Lewis originally published this under a pen name Clerk, it wasn’t until after his death three years after Joy’s that it was released under Lewis’ name.
When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner, 1981.
Kushner’s son Aaron died in 1977 after years of suffering with progeria, a premature aging disease. Kushner wrestles directly with the question of God’s role, or not, in disease, disaster, and sole survivors of multi-victim car crashes. It helped me to think differently about death.
Christian: Rabbi Kushner wrestles with the difficultly of how it is that God can “allow” tragedy can fall upon those in whom there is no guilt or sin. Did God “save” one person in a car accident, but allow the other to die? Do we suffer so that our faith will be made stronger? (Hint: No to both.) In short, Kushner’s view (and mine) is that of Gen. 3: this world was made “good,” but it is now broken. My thoughts can be found here and here.
St. Thomas Aquinas, G.K. Chesterton
A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss, Jerry Sittser, 2004 (expanded edition).
I have read Sittser’s book several times. Sittser’s own wife, daughter, and mother were killed in a car accident in 1991 leaving him and three surviving children. His honest struggle to understand his faith through suffering is rugged, truthful and challenging and I have been nourished through his writing in attempting to understand my own faith and its new landscape in light of Mack’s death.
A Grace Revealed: How God Redeems the Story of Your Life, Jerry Sittser, 2012.
A sequel to A Grace Disguised written years later, I haven’t absorbed this one the way I did A Grace Disguised, but I will read it again.
Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief, Martha Whitmore Hickman, 1994.
This purse-size book was first published in 1994 has daily reflections from classic authors who have experienced loss, with a short reflection from Hickman in relation to the sudden death of her daughter in a horseback riding accident. I have carried it around in my purse since I received it in the mail from a stranger. It is coffee stained, tear stained, marked up with notes in the margin and bent pages. Some of the reflections introduced me to other authors, some I just enjoyed for that single quote. In the winter after Mack died it seemed the only quiet time I had was in the car, waiting for Izzy to come out of school. 2013 was a snowy winter and I would sit in the warm car and read the daily thought, cry, talk to Mack, and jot a few thoughts in my journal before Izzy darted out of school.
Stations of the Heart: Parting with a Son, Richard Lischer, 2013.
Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith, Frederick Buechner, 2004. One of many books from Buechner, www.frederickbuechner.com also has many resources for the journey.
- “Be alive to your life! Observe! Pay attention!”
- “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, Anne Lamott, 2013.
I enjoy Lamott’s writing and also follow her on Facebook where she frequently reflects on life, faith and what she calls radical self-love. Her reflection regarding her distaste for Mother’s Day generated a lot of criticism to which she responded directly. The whole exchange was a hoot, particularly the curiously overly-offended!
Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, Elizabeth Lesser, 2008.
Markings, Dag Hammarskjold, 1964.
Several editions have been released over the years. A Swedish diplomat, he was Secretary General of the U.N. and died in a plane crash in Africa negotiating a cease-fire in 1961. Markings is his personal journal, poems, and spiritual reflections that he requested be published upon his death. W.H. Auden wrote the forward of the most recent release.
Lament for a Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff, 1987.
Christian: A renowned theologian, Wolterstorff’s 24 year old son died in a mountain climbing accident. Where as Sittser’s books (he’s a church historian) wrestle directly with the theological implications of theodicy and the loss of innocents, Wolsterstorff offers a true lament. Short, one-page expressions of anger, sadness, belief, and grief. Beautiful.
On Children and Death: How Children and Their Parents Can and Do Cope With Death, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, 1983.
Swiss born Kubler-Ross died in 2004 after spending a career researching and understanding the needs of the dying by sitting with them. This book is a companion to her earlier release On Death and Dying which is also helpful. But, because we lost our son in what is termed ‘sudden death’ I found this particular book helpful in thinking about the “passages” from death to new life. Kubler-Ross’ “stages of grief” have come under some scrutiny lately but I am not belabored by this stage or that.
One consistent aspect I have found in all my reading is the call to recapture death as a part of life.
On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, 1997.
The Cocoon & the Butterfly, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, 2000.
Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley, 2012.
This is written by hospice nurses and echoes the many stories from a variety of sources and times that experience the death moment with another person. It has helped me return to the night Mack died and it is a great resource for those who might have a relative or friend who is terminally ill.
The Death Class: A True Story About Life, Erika Hayaski, 2014.
I heard Hayaski interviewed on NPR regarding this book that documents her participation in a college class on death taught by Norma Bowe. But, really, it’s about life lived in full.
Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, Nadia Bolz-Weber, 2013.
Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor at Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints shares her ministry with broken places and people. It doesn’t really have much to do with grief but the process of peeling away layers of imperfect relationships to wrestle with the person of Jesus ourselves, is energizing.
The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing, Kevin Young, 2013.
Before Mack died, I had no idea, and no need to know, about these resources. We find these groups because we are in need of support and wisdom. Many of the groups below have online support groups, local meetings, and an abundance of practical articles. We are not alone.
- Compassionate Friends, supporting familes after a child dies. www.compassionatefriends.org
- Open to Hope Foundation, articles, podcasts and Grief TV www.opentohope.com
- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation www.ekrfoundation.org
- Kay Warren, www.kaywarren.com Kay Warren is the wife of pastor Rick Warren and their son, Matthew, committed suicide in April 2013. Kay has been sharing her own mourning process and I have found her thoughts insightful, honest, and encouraging.
- Henri Nouwen Society www.henrinouwen.org I subscribe to the daily meditation.
- Modern Loss – “Candid conversation about grief. Beginners welcome.” They also have a “Resources” page with some very practical and relevant posts, including advice regarding legal matters following a death.
- Center for Loss and Life Transition, founded by Alan Wolfelt