Wednesday, March 15, 2017

#SOL17: A Reading Habit

Forgetful (M.A. Reilly, 2010)

...Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed...
                        - John O’Donohue


A woman. A new widow.
I am reading her like a movie playing slowly,
remembering as I read and nodding alongside her starts and stops.
I know her words like I know my own hands.


I amassed so many books in the months following Rob's death and read them all in a gulp. I was mad reading, trying to find a shore. 
A spit of ground to stand on. 
Something to make the unfamiliar waves of widowhood more familiar. 

I was so fucking lost.


Some books I best remember, like Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air. I read this while Rob was at home dying. 
At night as my husband slept fitfully, I read. 
Most days he was mute and I read. 
Kalanithi's words spoke to me--revealed the shrouded silence of my husband as he died.


In the months following Rob's death, I found myself trying to make Spicy Red Lentil and Tomato Curry--Elizabeth Alexander's husband's recipe that she included in her stirring memoir The Light of the World: A Memoir. It is a recounting of her young husband's sudden death and their life together. 

It is painful as it is whole. 


And then there was C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed
I made images with his words. I painted and sketched. 
His words were truths I knew in my bones.


Like one reads a treasure map, I studied these books. 
I read them like a mad woman seeking a trail of necessity. 
I wanted direction, knowledge,
a map.

In those early days the world is mostly unformed.


I have no recipes to pass along here.
No wisdom either.
There are few words I know and none of them heal.

What I do have--is a list.
A list of 50 books that helped me find confidence in words once again.

Sometimes, friends it is that simple.
Reading offered a moment of grace. 

Here's the list (imperfect at that):

  1. What the Living Do: Poems (Marie Howe)
  2. The Afterlife (not sure of the author. I came home to find this waiting for me from a friend)
  3. Daily Meditation book: Healing After Loss
  4. The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief (Jan Richardson)
  5. The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion)
  6. Love and Living (Thomas Merton)
  7. Hello from Heaven (Bill Guggenheim)
  8. The Inner Voice of Love (Henri Nouwen)
  9. World Made and Unmade (Jane Mead)
  10. A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis I read this over and over..)
  11. When Husbands Die (Shirley McNally)
  12. The Light of the World: A Memoir (Elizabeth Alexander)
  13. Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief (Pauline Boss)
  14. Widow to Widow (Genevieve Ginsburg)
  15. The Other Side of Sadness (George Bonanno)
  16. The Gene: An Intimate History (Siddgarta Mukherjee)
  17. Heartbroken: Healing from the Loss (Gary Roe)
  18. I'm Grieving as Fast as I Can (Linda Feinberg)
  19. On Grief and Grieving (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)
  20. The Cancer Journals (Audre Lorde)
  21. Mortality (Christopher Hitchens)
  22. When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi)
  23. Second Firsts: Live, Laugh and Love Again (Christina Rasmussen)
  24. Getting to the Other Side of Grief (Susan J. Zonnebelt-Smeenge)
  25. Gabriel: A Poem (E.D. Hirsch)
  26. Final Payment (Mary Gordon)
  27. H is for Hawk (Helen Macdonald)
  28. Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope (Anne Lamont)
  29. Being Mortal (Atul Gawande)
  30. Radical Remissions: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds (Kelly A. Turner)
  31. Echoes of Memory (John O'Donohue)
  32. Seven Choices: Finding Daylight After Loss Shatters Your World
  33. New and Selected Poems, Volume I (Mary Oliver)
  34. Thirst (Mary Oliver)
  35. The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson
  36. Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words (David Whyte)
  37. Death's Door: Modern Dying and the Ways We Grieve (Sandra Gilbert)
  38. Patrimony (Philip Roth)
  39. Dying, A Memoir (Cory Taylor)
  40. Grief Cottage (Gail Godwin)
  41. All at Sea (Decca Aitkenhead)
  42. After (Jane Hirshfield)
  43. Levels of Living (Julian Barnes)
  44. Milk and Honey (Rupi Kaur)
  45. Sorry for Your Troubles (Padraig O Tuama)
  46. Option B:Facing Adversity, Building Resilience (Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant) 
  47. Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats (Roger Rosenblatt)
  48. Grief and it's Transcendence: Memory, Identity, Creativity (Adele Tutter & Leon Wurmser)
  49. The Best of Us (Joyce Maynard) 
  50. Heaven's Coast: A Memoir (Mark Doty)


  1. I haven't read very many, but just got The End of Your Life Book Club. Someone gave me Barbara Crooker's Gold when my mother died. It made me want to write more and I did. I've read a few of Roger Rosenblatt's books, some about writing, some about his daughter's sudden passing and found his way of looking at grief touched me. Thank you for the first words, then the list.

    1. The End of Your Life Book Club is on my list to read. I ordered Gold as I love poetry and it sounded compelling. Kayak Morning: Reflections on Love, Grief, and Small Boats by Rosenblatt is the book I think you are referring to. Will add to the list. Thanks:)

  2. I loved the layout of your post and the bonus book list addition. It must be hard every day.

  3. Wow! This is a beautiful gift of a post for those who are grieving and need support. What a rich list of amazing resources you have provided for us all. Because in life we are all going to have to go through the mystery and suffering that comes with death. I am a researcher and I have never had to deal with the death of someone so close to me. But finding solace and depth of understanding through reading is something that speaks to me. Thank you for sharing this painful but instructive post.

    1. I hope it helps others. Thanks for your kind words.

  4. This post is so powerful, and your structure is like reading a play in acts. I could only find one book when I lost my mother, Motherless Daughters, but it didn't reach the places I needed at that time. I am saving your post for future reference; thank you for this gift!

    1. Gold, recommended by Linda (above) is about loss of mother. Might be interesting to read. A poetry book.

  5. I think we all read to find maps forward, to have someone show us the way when we feel lost...this is an amazing list, Mary Ann: deep and wide.

    1. Thank you Tara. Make the map. Hard to do at times and yes others help.

  6. Thanks you for your list. I too am lost....and have been tying to find my way back....I too read and read and read...and sometimes I sleep!

    1. Anita, I hope there's some solace in these books for you as you read.

  7. "Reading offered a moment of grace." These words mean so much. I love "When Breath Becomes Air." I gave it to my doctor last fall when I was going through a series of diagnostics and began talking to my GYN, a neighbor and parent of a former student, about mortality and living a full life. I started "H is for Hawk." I'm not sure why I haven't finished it because I do like what I've read. I remember many moments of sadness when books offered comfort.

    1. This experience--losing Rob--has changed what matters to me. If I had my own class to teach, i know I would be a very different teacher. I would want to make sure children and teens understood that reading is first about pleasure and comfort.

    2. So much wisdom in that statement. I am glad books have brought you some measure of both pleasure and comfort.

  8. This makes me cry. This sisterhood in understand. I have only been able to start reading again. Philosophical, spiritually charged self-help books in short gulps.....I am so so grateful to have connected to you Mary Ann. Really I am. I feel the pull. I am grateful....I know each of our journeys is unique, but....

    1. I am so grateful that our paths have crossed. I shared your post on FB and I have cut and pasted the list of books to my drive. The sweet unselfish gesture of reaching out to me.....I am overcome with emotion. I find love in all directions. And if there is anything I have learned through Jerry's death, it is that love is the essence of this life. That is it. That is all that is needed. Love.

    2. Mary Ann, Do you have a suggestion or suggestions on what I may begin to read? The CS Lewis book was read over and over. Is that your top pick?

    3. I agree with you about love.

      This book was a help as it countered a lot of what I thought: The Other Side of Sadness (George Bonanno), CSLewis I read and reread.

    4. Thank you. I read one of your earlier had just celebrated your anniversary. You recalled your wedding day and the notion that as we stood and married, we had no idea what the future held. I think about that a lot. On that day we hold the promise of a bright future and growing old together. Maybe that is why I think about that at odd thoughts, such an opposition of emotions.....however one emotion remains: deep love that swells with gratitude, but also results in sorrow with a shift in how we perceive and receive that love.

    5. I think when the death is such a shock (I never saw this coming--Rob was strong and I thought healthy) the replay of earlier times when I didn't know happens

  9. Mary Ann, I am in the midst of reading a book that was recommended to me when I was at Kripalu this weekend. I am finding it loaded with quotes and thought provoking bits that I foresee will prompt some processing through writing. It is A Short Course in Happiness After Loss by Maria Sirois, Psy.D....she writes from the framework of her studies and also from divorce and the sudden death of her brother. Have you read it? OH! I thought of you this weekend as I notice Marie Howe is going to Kripalu.

    1. I don't know the book but will add it to my list of books to read. Were you at Kripalu? Would love to hear Howe read. Thanks for letting me know.

    2. Yes. There was a grief related program.

    3. I've never been there but heard it was a special and spiritual place. Glad you could attend.


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