Monday, June 15, 2015

When is the Best Time to Give the Gift of a Grief Book?

A dear friend contacted me this morning for some book recommendations for a mom who recently lost her son in a car accident. She was interested in what books were most helpful to me in the throes of early grief.

I gave her some suggestions that I have shared before, like the incomparable A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser, Lament for a Son, and To Heaven and Back.

I have heard from many, many people who have benefited from my books, Rare Bird and A Hug from Heaven, and for that I am grateful.

People often ask me what the best time to give a book is.

I think it's not necessary to worry about the BEST time to give a friend a book about grief. If you feel moved to share a book, go ahead and do it. That said, I would encourage us all to do it without any expectations. For instance, it was really important that people were here to love and support me but never to try to "fix me." I did not want people to follow-up and ASK if I'd read the books they gave me. Too much pressure!

I was grateful that books were there when and if I was ready to dip into them. No friend ever said, "This is THE book you need to read," and I appreciated that. A helpful approach might be, "I thought of you when I read this book," or "I'd like to give you this book in case you ever want to read it." There are so many fabulous books out there, and people will have very personal responses to them. My husband and I have turned to very different books in our grief; while I want to read memoirs and all I can about heaven, he is more interested in Bible studies and fiction.

Speaking of books, I read one in its entirety last night and it spoke to my heart simply, deeply, and eloquently. It is by Tom Zuba, an author/speaker/life coach I was privileged to meet at a local bookstore this week. His book is spare and appears simple, with the look of poetry on the page. Tom lost his 18 month old daughter. Years later, his 43 year old wife died. Finally, his 13 year old son died from brain cancer. I definitely wanted to hear what Tom had to say about grief!

This book is the one he wished he had read when he experienced his first loss, but instead he had to live it first, and then write it. I don't know if I would have been ready to read this immediately after Jack's death, because it really does offer a perspective quite different than the one I was living at the time. Had someone given it to me then, I might have left it on my bedside table for many months before I'd be able to consider reading the simple words of a man who had suffered such great loss yet was thriving and joyful!

But had a friend had given it to me, I most certainly would have benefited from it at some point, as I did last night, staying up late, soaking in every word, nodding along. Tom writes about how we need to give ourselves permission to mourn and really feel our feelings. He writes how we can indeed, find joy again, and he stresses that our relationships with those who have died are still very real indeed.

For other grief book recommendations, here's an article I wrote for The Daily Beast and an excellent list from What's Your Grief.

Books can be a balm to a grieving heart. When you share one, you often share hope and possibility to someone in the pit. And as I tell those who read Rare Bird: hold onto it loosely and pay attention-- because before you know it, there will be the opportunity to share it with someone else!

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Anonymous said...

I didn't mind getting books, DVDS, and CDs right after our son died, but I always dreaded the follow-up question the next time I saw the giver. "Have you read/watched/seen it yet?" It was awkward for me to say "no," and I felt pressured and stressed out by the question.

Anna Whiston-Donaldson said...

What a good point! I don't like that either. Too much pressure and, truthfully, it's asking a lot to remember who gave you which book, movie, etc.

claire plante said...


Thank you for this helpful post! A friend of my mom's needs some of these books right now (have already sent your book), so your post was timely.


joyfulchallenge said...

I appreciated them when, like you said, they were just given as thoughtful with no expectations. Tim was flagged down in Wal-Mart one day shortly after we lost Austin. The guy grabbed a book off the shelf and bought it for him (The Shack) and was persistent that he HAD to read it, as if it would "fix" everything. Tim never did. I already had and it was a disappointing read (imo) for someone who has lost a child. Sitser's books would be my top recommendation too.

Unknown said...

I agree Anna that any time would be okay. You could tell the person to read it when they're ready with the fervent hope that it will help in their healing. I've read dozens of books since my son passed away in 2011 and nearly all have been helpful. I've learned from every single book how to cope and to know we are not alone.

Alexandra Rosas said...

Thank you for this, Anna. I have given books. I am sad to say, to three families who have lost a child. I never heard if they received he books or not, I mailed them, but I'm hoping they have them in a pile somewhere, where they can read them when ready.

Sarah said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi Anna, I ordered your book last night for my brother and sister-in-law, who lost her 3-year-old daughter in a terrible accident a week ago yesterday. I have been reading your blog for a few years now. I remember the storms in DC the night you lost Jack. We lived in Alexandria at the time, and I was on the road with my two older children but had to turn back because the roads were so bad. I have to admit I have been afraid to read your book because until last week I had not experienced tragedy or suffering, and I felt I might not fully appreciate the book. After standing by my niece's graveside on a beautiful, sunny morning, I think I am finally ready to read it. I know my sister-in-law will find comfort in your writing. Thanks for posting this list; these books will be a great resource to our family in coming months and years. Incidentally my husband and his siblings attended the same college that Jerry Sittser taught at, and I had heard his story from them long ago.

Anna Whiston-Donaldson said...

Oh Sarah, I am so very, very sorry for the loss of your precious niece. Heartbreaking.

Tiffany said...

I have just started to read your book, which was mentioned to me months ago by a friend because she had thought of me and the loss of my six-week old son, Silas, as she read the book. I read the introduction at Barnes and Noble and was amazed at how many times I related to your words...I finally felt there actually was someone out there who could understand my heart. At first, I couldn't read anything anyone had given to me as I was finding my solace in writing down the thoughts circling through my mind. The first book I read was about heaven, and your book is the second one I'm reading. I have a pile sitting on my shelf that I'll read as I'm able and I'm so grateful people have given me the space to read them in my own time.