Well, today is National Grief Awareness Day.
I’m real aware of my grief, don’t worry.
And that’s OK. More than OK—that’s the point of Grief Awareness Day. According to NationalDayCalendar.com (which, if you work in social media, you need to know about), “National Grief Awareness Day recognizes the time it takes to heal from loss doesn’t have a prescribed course and is a reminder closure comes in many forms.”
Below is one of my favorite grief-related quotes:
I will miss my mom for the rest of my own life. When I first lost her, carrying her loss was like carrying a massive suitcase through the NYC subway. It beat me down, it was hard to get through, I was stumbling. (While writing that simile, it came to mind that just after hearing about her death, that’s exactly what I did stumbling across the platform at the LIRR station in Jamaica.)
Nowadays, it’s like I’m carrying a backpack; I know it’s there, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but it’s not entirely unwieldy. Sometimes it feels like someone’s snuck something heavy like a laptop in, and it’s harder to manage, but it rarely takes me entirely to my knees any more.
And that’s OK. Clinically, too. My therapist said that’s more than normal.
Just after my mom passed away, one of you sweet readers commented that you tried to read everything you could on grief to make sense of it, and, me too, sweet reader, me too. I’ve gotten quite a few messages and emails asking about grief resources, and I’ve dashed off short messages each time, but I wanted to make this a comprehensive resource of things to read about grief if you need them. (I plan to keep this a running, updating resource so please let me know if you have anything you think should be added! I am going to write a separate post for how to help a grieving friend.)(It will also include how not to help a grieving friend.)
OK, let’s start bite-sized here. If you’re freshly grieving, you may not have the attention span to read a whole book. (No, seriously.) Here’s some great sites, though, that I’ve found helpful.
Modern Loss: I love this site. I mean, I wish I didn’t need to, but here we are. It’s irreverent, it’s funny (if you can handle dark humor), it tackles all the weird stuff about grief people don’t usually talk about, such as grieving on Facebook. I also wrote something for them, which was entirely sarcastic and dark, and hi, me.
Option B: This site is based on the book of the same name by Sheryl Sandberg. It’s meant to be a toolkit both for the grieving and those with grieving loved ones.
What’s Your Grief: This site has excellent SEO because any time I googled “grieving AND ___,” it came up.
Claire Bidwell Smith: I cannot say enough good things about this woman. The same reader/commenter who said she read everything she could about grief also recommended Claire’s books. Claire lost both of her parents by 25, struggled pretty hard and ultimately turned all of that into becoming a grief therapist and author. Her site has lots of deep, soulful posts and she has an amazing grief meditation you can download, which I definitely never listen to lying on the floor under my weighted blanket. I’ve been doing grief therapy sessions with her as well, and as she is an only child and a writer, in many ways, I feel like I’m talking to a slightly older, wiser and more educated version of myself.
Hope Edelman: Hope is author of Motherless Daughters, (and she and Claire lead Motherless Daughters retreats together), and her site is an amazing resource for women who have lost their mothers, with posts like Getting Through the Holidays After Losing a Loved One. (It’s fucking hell, from experience, but I survived.) There’s also a directory of support groups for motherless daughters across the country. I’ve gone to some events with the NYC chapter. I think, ultimately, it was too early for me, but I met some amazing women.
CancerCare: If you’ve lost a loved one to cancer—or, if you are currently going through a cancer battle with a loved one—I can’t recommend them enough, for you and your loved one. If you’re in NYC, they offer in-person counseling; otherwise they do counseling via phone and have online support groups, both of which I’ve used in the past.
I’m going to start with Claire’s, because, like I said, they were the most helpful to me.
Rules of Inheritance: This is maybe one of the most achingly honest books I’ve ever written. It’s a coming-of-age memoir of Claire figuring out her life through, and in spite of, losing both of her parents. It chronicles her ups and downs figuring that out, but it left me hopeful for my own life after “active grief.” Honestly, though, I could talk about this book forever.
After This: To be completely honest, I’m not sure where entirely my feelings on religion suss out. I was raised Catholic (hi, Italian and Irish parents), and I still go to church sometimes, but I also consider myself spiritual outside of religion. In this book, Claire explores what different religions and cultures think about where we go after we die. On the most basic level, I believe that heaven exists, because it makes it even just a little easier to cope to believe that she has not entirely ceased to exist just because she doesn’t exist on this earth, and to believe that I will see her again. Because, hi, she has some more meatballs to make for me.
Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief: Claire believes that anxiety is the missing stage of grief (in the popular Kubler-Ross model), and I don’t disagree. After seeing the worst happen in your life that could, of course you’re terrified of more going wrong. I mean, so I’ve heard.
Motherless Daughters: This book, by Hope Edelman, explores her own mother loss as well as a handful of other women, and what that looks like at all stages of life. If you are or are becoming a mother yourself, she also has a book called Motherless Mothers, about what it’s like to become a mother after having lost your own.
Death Benefits: As I started approaching the one-year mark of losing my mom, I began to be able to see her for who she was—a wonderful human being…who was not perfect. This book was pivotal at that stage in my grief for recognizing and reconciling all of that—what I got from her that was amazing, what was…not so much…and really, how I could begin to integrate her loss into my life and create the life I’ve always wanted. Ugh, after typing that last sentence, it feels so cliche, but it’s true.
Modern Loss: This is a collection of essays from the founders of the site and more than 40 contributors, including one of my exes because the media world is really small.
It‘s OK That You’re Not OK: This author, Megan Devine, is another grief therapist. She lost her partner, and I honestly have very little memory of why I liked this book so much, but it was just really calming to me. According to Amazon, it has lots of practical advice for the grieving and for their loved ones on how to help them. I really only remember reading this in the bathtub and crying, though, tbh.
Option B: This is Sheryl Sandberg’s book by the same name as her site. To be honest, I don’t remember much of this one either because I started it as my mom was dying, and finished it just after. (I also started reading A Night to Remember after my mom’s funeral, so I’m awesome at reading light books in times of duress.) The basic premise, though, is that a life with our loved ones is Option A, which we no longer have, so we have to make the best of the Option B that we’re left with. It’s a book that started to give me a glimmer of hope.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Holy fuck. This book will tear your heart open, make you question your life, and put it back together again all within the span of several pages. Written by Cheryl Strayed, who was one of the Dear Sugar advice columnists, the book tackles everything from love to loss to feeling lost. Cheryl is no stranger to those highs and lows, and she delivers the advice in a way that is entirely frank but soul-soothing all in one.
Wild: Also by Cheryl Strayed, Wild is the tale of her Pacific Crest Trail after losing her mom and divorcing her husband. I’d seen the movie years ago, before my mom was even sick, and remember it being heart-wrenching. I knew I needed to read this, but I was scared. To be honest, the beginning, when she’s discussing losing her mom is heart-wrenching, but the rest of the book is so, so worth it once you get past that. What I love most about this book—and all of these, really—is that they normalize that is entirely normal to be a hot fucking mess while grieving, but that there really is hope on the other side.
There’s a million articles I could recommend, but for “brevity” (lols this is already 1500 words), I’ll just start with this one about how losing a parent affects your brain.
I am interested in both reading and writing more about adoptees who’ve lost parents, so if you have any resources to share on that or have also experienced that, I’d love to hear from you — theodora at preppyrunner.com
Also, my inbox and my DMs are always, always open if you need to reach out.