“What are the best grief books?”
It’s a question I’ve been asked many times by those who are searching for a book to give to a friend. Although there are dozens of grief books on Amazon (check the grief and bereavement category for a slew of them), these are the ones I enjoyed reading and would recommend to others who are facing grief and loss.
After looking through the list, let me know if there are any I should be reading that are not on this list! I’d love to hear from you.
Christian Grief Books
Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller
1. The best book I have read on suffering and theology is Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller (Dutton, 2013). In it Keller writes, “This is a dark world. There are many ways we keep that darkness at bay, but we cannot do it forever. Eventually the lights of our lives–love, health, home, work–will begin to go out. And when that happens we will need something more than our own understanding, competence and power can give us.”
This meaty book explores why God would allow suffering and how he brings meaning out of our pain. To understand the issue more fully, the book is written in three parts: the cultural and historical context of suffering, the theology of suffering, and how to personally deal with suffering. Although the entire book was good, I enjoyed parts two and three the most, and felt like his practical application of suffering was the most meaningful.
Holding On to Hope: A Pathway through Suffering to the Heart of God by Nancy Guthrie
2. In Holding on to Hope Nancy Guthrie writes, “God wants to use the difficulties in your life not to punish or hurt you but to draw you to himself,” After losing her daughter at six months old, Guthrie uses the book of Job as a framework for her suffering as she explores staggering loss and soaring hope. In the end, her words help readers to find hope in heartache.
A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss by Jerry Sittser
3. In A Grace Disguised, author Jerry Sittser loses three generations of his family in a car accident–his mother, his wife and his daughter. In this book he explores the depths of sorrow and also what we do with our pain. He shows how we can have spiritual depth and joy past the pain.
A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis
4. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis writes, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” Written after his wife dies, Lewis honestly and thoughtfully explores his grief and the fundamental issues of life, death, and faith in the midst of loss. This was one of the first books on grief I ever read after my father died, and it helped me to realize that even the most stalwart of believers can have their faith shaken in the midst of grief.
Good Grief by Granger Westberg
5. Good grief is a concise book that explores the myriad of emotions that accompanies any loss. It identifies the ten stages of grief–shock, emotion, depression, physical distress, panic, guilt, anger, resistance, hope, and acceptance–but, ultimately shows readers that there is no right way to navigate the complex emotions of grief. A pastor gave me this book during our loss, and I appreciated the simple, straight forward explanation of grief’s complicated phases. Ultimtatley there is no straight path out of grief, and this book gives a good overview of some of teh things we might experience.
General Books on Grief and Loss
On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
6. On Death and Dying came out of Dr. Kübler-Ross’s famous study on death, life, and the common emotional stages that accompany it. In it, Dr. Kübler-Ross first explores the now-famous five stages of death: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She also has written a companion book, On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
7. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is a fabulously written exploration of a wife’s grief. Written as a memoir recounting her husband’s death and memories from their marriage, Didion is honest about the complex emotions she experiences after losing her husband.
I’m a fan of Didion’s writings and found much I liked in this honest memoir, which was a National Book Award Winner and a bestseller. However, it is not written from a Christian perspective, which ultimately shapes Didion’s perspective on grief.
Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
In Option B, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recounts the loss of her husband and her personal struggls through her grief. In preparation for a father-child activity, she laments over her husband’s absence. “I want Dave,” she cries to a friend. Her friend replies, “Option A is not available,” and then promises to help her through Option B. With a highly relatable story, Sandberg wrestles with issues like how to help her children through grief and what it’s like to go back to work after the funeral. She pushes for revised workplace bereavement policies and encourages people to address the elephant in the room when a grieving friend is present. With candor and insight, she recognizes the changes we need to see in our grief-adverse culture and pushes toward new conversations in grief. Although some have criticized her strong push toward resilience in this book (since she makes it appear that resilience can happen very quickly), I found her honesty toward grief refreshing.
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