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:
However, I think better advice would have been not to worry too much 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 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!