Grief, heartache and loss are never very easy to talk about especially when you’re in the depths of them yourself, however they are things that every one of us will go through some time in our life so it’s important to talk about them however uncomfortable or sad it might make us feel. Whether it be through the loss of a loved one, a drift between two friends, a shift in familial relationships, a loss of a job, a deterioration of health or an end to a way of life or a relationship, the feeling of loss can be all encompassing and very lonely. We often have a natural defence mechanism to shy away from talking about it but it’s during the time of loss that ironically we need to communicate the most. From my own experiences I know how hard dealing with loss can be and I’m still learning today how to navigate such big bumps in life, but over the years I’ve found (unsurprisingly) that books are a great way to better understand the different faces of grief and the overwhelming confusion and aching that often accompanies it, so I decided to collect together some books that I’ve personally found really helpful in hope that they may also bring some comfort and strength to anyone who’s experiencing any hardships of loss themselves.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
Now this book is one I can’t easily categorise for the simple fact that I don’t know of any other book quite like it. It’s appeal is universal from when we’re tiny tots to when we’re aged with laughter lines etched in our faces. Its simple story follows (you’ve guessed it) a boy, a mole, a fox and a horse as they journey together through the wilderness and face all the storms along the way together. You can read this book from start to finish, back to front or simply by randomly landing on the page you open it at. Its beauty of quiet strength, humour, kindness and wisdom embodies all the best parts of humanity (including the universal love of cake!) and I think it’s near impossible to close this book without feeling comforted, a bit stronger, a little freer and more ready for the world when it’s at its scariest.
Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You/The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons
This book is one of my all time favourites without a doubt. It follows the life of 80-something Eudora who is quite simply done with life. She is old and she is tired and there’s nothing she would like more than to leave this world with dignity and grace, however whilst Eudora is planning her death with a trip to a clinic in Switzerland, life seems to have handed her one last curve in the road by the sudden appearance of her new 10-year-old neighbour Rose and acquaintance and fellow pensioner Stanley. Together the unlikely trio of friends discover what it really means to live, laugh and ultimately how to make the most of life whilst we’re lucky enough to have it. Completely heart-warming, uplifting, funny and wise Eudora’s story meditatively contemplates the taboo subject of death with kindness, humour, simplicity and calmness. For a better look at this wonderful novel click here to read my full review and interview with Annie herself to hear all about the rather marvellous Eudora!
When Life is not Peachy by Pip Lincolne
‘If life has taken a difficult turn, chances are you are not feeling very much like yourself.’ I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all felt like this sometime in our life let alone within the last year of a global pandemic. Whether we’ve faced a loss of a loved one, an end to a relationship or friendship, hit a few unexpected bumps in the road or have simply lost our way, we’ve all felt sadness in some form. And in those times of darkness I think we all desperately flounder in hope to find a helping hand and that is just what this book does – it lends an extremely kind hand out to help you keep afloat above your sadness.
Based on the authors own experiences of loss, heartache and hardships When Life is not Peachy consists of manageable chapters covering topics from talking about hard-to-deal-with feelings, physical symptoms of sadness, breathing techniques, areas of life that can feel unimaginably hard when having sadness by your side every day, ideas of things you could do that may make you feel better, how to talk to your loved ones about what you’re going through and so much more – there’s even book and playlist recommendations! Without anything but kindness this book gives advice in a simple, unpatronising way and is super accessible for any reader. It creates a little safe haven for understanding how you’re feeling and what you’re going through and makes a lonely time much less isolating. It also includes advice for family and friends who are reading it to better understand how to help their loved one who’s hurting which I think is so important as lots of books dealing with tough times are quite understandably directed solely for the person going through the sadness, but this book covers both sides which is amazing. So if you’re feeling low, lost and don’t know where to start or if you want to help someone who’s going through a difficult time, I can highly recommend this warm and wise book.
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
I’ve previously written a whole blog all about how much I love this book which you can find here so I won’t go on too much about it but I couldn’t not include it in this blog!Words in Deep Blue is set in Australia and follows the lives of two huckleberry friends – Rachel and Henry who are now grown and are at the beginning of adulthood. Their separated paths now cross after years of being apart when Rachel returns to her childhood town after loosing her younger brother to a tragic sea accident. Over the time they spend together in Henry’s family bookshop the two of them experience heartache in different ways but slowly they start to grow into a new way of life and learn how to live with the past. For me it was a pretty realistic account of grief and the growing pains that we all go through. It bought a reminder that we’re all connected by our experiences of loss and that despite the muddy waters these times certainly bring, life can continue in a different way despite the overwhelming feeling of loss and constant uncertainty.
A Manual for Heartache by Cathy Rentzenbrink
As the title implies this book is a manual for heartache but not specifically the romantic type of heartache that you may first imagine when hearing the word, in fact Cathy Rentzenbrink deals with the topic of grief in all its forms from death to break-ups, trauma to depression, and lends a helping hand for anyone who has ever felt the dull ache of loss and the disorientating experience of being lost in a mental storm. The author herself has experienced grief first hand when she lost her brother at a young age which she documented in her bestselling memoir The Last Act of Love. Over the years since her brother passed away she’s been learning how to cope with the copious feelings of grief on a daily basis and the ripples that loss can send out, and that’s exactly what this book aims to help people with. She has accessibly written a handbook that includes techniques that she’s personally found helpful, contemplates thoughts that we’ve all probably had, recommends some awesome books (because you can take the bookseller out of the bookshop but never the bookshop out of the bookseller!) and accounts personal experiences that I personally found really helpful to better understand the things that I was feeling. She isn’t trained in psychology or claims to have the secrets to dealing with life’s sadness, but her kindness and strength brings the world a small but mighty book that has the ability to really help people in their darkest times.
The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson
I loved this retelling of the classic Polish folktale of Baba Yaga. Much like the original tales of the old witch from the woods, it holds magic between it’s every word however this tale turns what you think you know about Baba Yaga right on it’s head and leads you to a uniquely original tale of family, love, death and the magic of life.
In The House with Chicken Legs we meet young Marinka who lives with her grandmother Baba Yaga and together they travel the world settling down for only days or weeks at a time in their nomadic house who does indeed have chicken legs! Marinka dreams of living a normal life but her life you will find out, is anything but ordinary. You see Baba Yaga is trained in the rare business of leading the spirits of the dead to the next world. She sees the spirits on their travel back to the stars to complete the cycle of life with kindness, wisdom and compassion and she’s hoping to teach Marinka to do the same when she grows up but Marinka has other plans in sight where making friends and staying in one place is at the top of her list. But with mysteries from Marinka’s past shadowing her life, this adventurous and headstrong young girl has more than the secrets of the stars to discover.
Filled with adventure, travel and kindness Sophie Anderson brings to life a story that brims with magic and brings the reader everything you want in a children’s book as well as covering the important and difficult subject of death in a safe, imaginative and less daunting way. Not only is it a brilliant story in it’s own right but I think it’s an important book for all ages to read.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
Matt Haig is renowned for being a beacon of light when it comes to talking about mental health, especially when it comes to the more taboo subject of the male experience of mental health. Having suffered a breakdown in his early 20’s and since having shared his life with depression, Matt Haig knows a thing or two about the struggles you can face when you’re at your lowest and in his pocket sized book he manages to convey important topics in a way that makes you feel like you’re sitting down with a friend over a cup of tea. With bitesize chapters it’s perfect to pick up and down or read on the go and with his rational look at depression he writes with compassion, complete honesty and strength. So although Reasons to Stay Alive doesn’t deal with grief as it’s main theme, its subject matter is certainly one that coincides with loss. A great book with hope at the centre of its pages and an absolute testament to the enormous strength and courage that every warrior who faces daily battles with mental health disorders or illnesses show the world each day.
Marly’s Ghost by David Levithan
David Levithan weaves a retelling of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol in this YA romance set over the night before Valentines Day. Ben’s life feels like it’s come to an end when his girlfriend Marly dies and with February 14th soon approaching all he wants to do is hide far, far away from the world but sometimes when we feel there’s no way out, the things we need rather than want come and find us.
On the night leading up to Valentine’s Day Ben has a visit from his girlfriends ghost heralding a night of time hopping to encounter his past, present and future to help him come to terms with the painful reality of his loss. Following the footsteps faithfully of the classic tale, David Levithan brings a whole new story full of the emotions of life. Ben’s experiences brings him sometimes pain, sometimes joy but most of all the acceptance of learning how to live again. It’s a small love letter to life, to love itself and to finding strength to carry on when you need to most.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this weeks blog and that if you or a loved one are going through difficult times, that you may find some of these books helpful in understanding whatever kind of sadness or heartache you or they are going through. Remember there are also some brilliant charities out there which can be invaluable when you’re feeling at your lowest or dealing with loss. A really great website to visit for specialised bereavement charity helplines can be found here at www.supportline.org.uk as well as many other charities who support anyone dealing with mental health illness some of which I’ve included here – Mind, The Samaritans, Calm, Anxiety UK, Men’s Health Forum, No Panic and OCD-UK.
“I have a new respect for grief and a new respect for myself as a traveller in it. I used to be frightened of loving people because I thought I wouldn’t survive losing them, but now I see that making friends with grief, accepting it as part of being human, will liberate me to love even more, and that the love is always worth it”― Cathy Rentzenbrink, A Manual for Heartache
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2 thoughts on “Books to help with Grief & Heartache”
This is a stunning post. X
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Thank you so much! x