Books for Bereavement
When we experience the death of a loved one, oftentimes we are rendered feeling lonely and unsure as to how to help ourselves. Reading is a very therapeutic and healing activity, as is exploring the feelings that you are having during this time. There are many books that deal with themes of death and loss, either explicitly or in a more nuanced manner. Here are our recommended books, both fictional and non-fictional, that offer incisive and potentially formative approaches to the reality of death and grief.
Two Classic Novels
A Farewell To Arms – Ernest Hemingway
This American classic, written in the terse style of Hemingway’s iconic ‘iceberg theory’ bereftness, is a gritty and declarative love story littered with tragedy. This is to be approached with caution; nothing is sugar-coated by Hemingway, and his novel, typical of the post-war period in which he was writing, is characterised by hard, blatant pessimism and disillusionment.
- Lieutenant Frederic Henry is an American ambulance driver in the Italian army during the First World War. He soon meets Catherine Berkely, an English nurse, who, after a few romantic meetings, then tends to Frederic in Milan after he is injured on the Italian front.
- Catherine and Frederic steadily and intensely fall in love, and Catherine soon finds herself pregnant. Frederic is diagnosed with jaundice but is sent back to the front after being found hoarding alcohol. Morale within the army plummets as the Italians are forced into a slow and painful retreat.
- The couple flees from Stresa to Switzerland, intending to build a life for themselves and their imminent child. Their relationship is, throughout the novel, sullied by a domineering and persistent rainfall that points towards their ultimate demise.
- A catastrophic birth leads to ultimate tragedy for the young lovers.
This novel is a painfully honest masterpiece of literary construction; it is not, as many novels that explore death are, clichéd or by any means trite. It will not offer you a happy ending, or even any hint of ultimate happiness, but it explores the feelings that are least talked about regarding death, such as anger, ambivalence, and rejection.
Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights, one of the most renowned classic novels in English literary history, is an intricate gothic depiction of family, devastatingly passionate love, and the phenomenon of death and its interactions with the living. Wuthering Heights was pioneering in its intelligent manipulations of time and space, making for an all-encompassing, dislodging read in its characteristic blending of fantasy and realism. Death is aligned with destruction, ecstasy, and utter oblivion.
- Mr. Earnshaw, a Yorkshire Farmer and owner of Wuthering Heights, brings to the moors an orphaned Heathcliff from Liverpool and raises him with his children, Hindley and Catherine.
- Catherine loves Heathcliff deeply, but her affections towards him are not reciprocated by her brother, Hindley.
- After Mr. Earnshaw’s death, Hindley’s hatred towards Heathcliff is put into action.
- Edgar and Isabella Linton live at Thrushcross Grange; and welcome Catherine into their home but shun Heathcliff because of his unknown origins and unruly nature.
- As Catherine begins to spend more and more time with Edgar Linton, Heathcliff begins to plot his revenge against her.
- Heathcliff abandons the moors for three years after overhearing Catherine declare that she will never marry him. During his absence, Catherine marries Edgar.
- Edgar and Catherine are mismatched; her passionate wildness is unmatched by Edgar. Heathcliff’s return only worsens their mistaken marriage.
- Heathcliff marries Edgar’s sister, Isabella, and soon after Catherine gives birth to a baby girl with Edgar, whom they call Cathy, which is the cause of her death.
- Heathcliff, blaming the Edgar and the child for the death of his true love, resolves to ruin Edgar. He forces Cathy to marry his son, Linton and takes control of the Heights and with Edgar’s death, he has control of the Grange.
- The ghost of Catherine haunts Heathcliff throughout the course of the novel until he eventually passes and the lovers are reunited in death.
Wuthering Heights offers a positive defiance against the finality of death as Bronte’s writing performs a subversive attack upon the physicality of death, favouring the phenomenon of spiritual existence in her character Cathy, who states to Heathcliff, ‘They may bury me twelve feet deep, and throw the church down over me, but I won’t rest till you are with me. I never will.’
Together the couple rebel against the natural life cycle as they seek a spiritual togetherness that is above and beyond physical existence. In fact, what we consider to be the structures of living: time and space; consequence and linear existence, are unravelled by Bronte in Wuthering Heights, such that the reader reaches a deeper understanding of the emotional life that underlies the laws of physics by which we are bound.
For those of us who are affected by the philosophical implications of death, Wuthering Heights is a novel which can enable you to look beyond the finality of loss and grief.
Self-Help Books for Grief and Bereavement
When in the throes of sadness, it can be helpful to search for direct instruction and guidance from a faceless, non-judgemental source. Self-help books, when chosen correctly, can be a brilliant tool for healing and development.
Here are some popular and well-reviewed self-help books to try:
The Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses
by John W. James and Russell Friedman
The Orphaned Adult: Understanding and Coping with Grief and Change After the Death of Our Parents
by Alexander Levy
Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving by Julia Samuel
If you are struggling to cope with the loss of a loved one, do ensure to seek support from those around you. Alternatively, you can use the Samaritans free helpline by calling: 116 123 from any phone, at any time.