Four years ago, I was about to start my last semester of college when my group of friends was rocked by some pretty harrowing news: our friend Jay had died. While it didn’t come as a shock necessarily (he had been in a car accident a week prior, and was in a medically-induced coma), it was obviously devastating. I had only known him for the latter 2 years of college, but it certainly didn’t hurt any less. After the blur of traveling from Binghamton to Long Island for his funeral, everyone was left with “what now, what next.”
To be honest, I’m still not sure if I can answer that question. Jay’s death preceded the deaths of my two remaining grandparents later that year. It would be a lie to say I’m not continuously grieving for all of them. There are days when I think of Jay and cry, there are days where I think of my grandparents and smile. No grief, even within the same person, is the same.
But it took me a long time to come to that conclusion. A long time and a lot of books. When I’m down, books are my refuge – just as they are for many bookworms like me.
But grief is hard to capture in a book because like I said before, no one grieves the same.
When I first sat down to write this, I had only planned on talking about one book that I thought has really captured grief correctly for me. But thinking about it, there really are quite a few.
First, the one I meant to talk about: The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom
>This book, while it doesn’t expressly deal with grieving someone, is a book I’ll always cherish for the way it helped me process what it was to experience someone dying. I know I’ve talked about it on here before, how I read it Christmas morning (it had been a gift from my best friend) in about two hours and I just cried and cried because of how beautiful and poignant it was. (Honorary mention: Albom’s memoir, Tuesdays with Morrie).
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
>So this is may seem cliche, but it deserves its place next to Albom when dealing with grief. The story of a 17-year-old cancer patient falling in love, this book deals with death in all the ways so many don’t. For one, TFIOS tackles the reality of death head on. There’s nothing questionable about it. And that’s why it’s so beautiful; this book really deals with the lead-up, and what it means, and how it feels.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
>I’ve talked about why this book is possibly my favorite of the seven before, but I haven’t really gone into detail with the way Harry grieves. Harry so fully, so completely grieves for Cedric at the beginning of this book, and Sirius at the end. (This series is so brilliant for this post because he also grieves in books 6 and 7, but I think 5 is the most important). Everyone complains about how “angry” and “selfish” Harry is – and I don’t just mean fans – throughout this book. But people fail to talk about how he’s a 15 year old who saw someone die the previous school year. He doesn’t have a safe place to talk about what happened in the Muggle world, and subsequently bottles up all of his grief. And he’s not alone; so many people fail to express their grief and end up exploding in anger over something completely different. After Sirius goes through the veil, Harry is literally overcome with grief so much he acts out of hatred and anger, which are just unbelievably out of character for him. He gives in completely to his emotions after this, which is another way so many people grieve. They let it all wash over without regard for the outside world.
The Truth About Forever, Sarah Dessen
>One of my favorite Dessen books is also one of the deepest. TTAF shows grief in a way none of these other books do – the quiet, constant grief. After losing her dad, Macy has figured out a way to hide in the shadows so she’s no longer known as “the girl whose dad died.” She finds a person – her boyfriend, Jason – who simply lets her be quiet and will take the lead in her life. But what this book also does is show how the quiet grief can also be the most debilitating. By removing herself from everything she used to enjoy (running, specifically), Macy loses herself. And she begins to learn that she’ll only be able to handle her grief and learn to live with what happened.
Where She Went, Gayle Forman
>Okay, so I had to come back and edit this post because I forgot this book initially. This book is SO important when you talk about grief. The follow up to If I Stay, a book where main character and narrator Mia loses her entire family in a car crash and must decide if she still wants to live or not (spoiler: there’s a sequel), this book is narrated by her first book boyfriend, Adam, after they’ve been apart for three years. The way Mia expresses her grief – through remembrance, memorials, and happiness – is something that people often forget is possible in the immediate aftermath. People forget it’s okay to be happy, that it’s alright to smile when you think of those who are gone. Where She Went very emotionally reminds you there’s more than one way to remember.
Bottom line, losing people sucks. But it’s something that’s universally acknowledged and, luckily for the rest of us, put on the page by talented people to help us all deal.