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Colin Firth as Mr. Niven in the film adaptation of "Mothering Sunday." Photo: Jamie D. Ramsay (SASC)/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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Finding Solace

10 books to help you understand and cope with grief / BY Nathalie Atkinson / April 8th, 2022

Over the past couple of years, my prescriptions for processing grief have included books like The See-Through House, Shelley Klein’s memoir of saying goodbye to her much-loved modernist family home after the death of her designer father, Bernat Klein. There’s also Catherine Mayer and Anne Mayer Bird’s Good Grief; both mother and daughter were widowed at the beginning of the pandemic and this is the story of how they supported one other through it. I’ve also given copies of Megan Devine’s It’s OK That You’re Not OK, in part for the opening line: “I want you to know: this really is as bad as you think.” That bracing sentiment is welcome and necessary when everyone else around is offering platitudinous assurances that grief is a feeling that will pass.

I also want to single out the beautifully understated feature film adaptation of Graham Swift’s novella Mothering Sunday, featuring Olivia Colman and Colin Firth. The story about friends shattered by grief in the aftermath of the First World War is finally being released in Canada this spring (beginning April 8, in select cities). I’ve mentioned it before, because it was among my favourites at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. This lyrical and clear-eyed look at a day in the life of a bereaved community explores both the disorienting landscape of grief and the regenerative hope that can come of it, just like these 10 new and notable books of solace.

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1Bittersweetby Susan Cain

The inspirational U.S. speaker on introverts, who wrote the 2012 international bestseller, Quiet, lost her brother and father to COVID-19 (her mother, who has Alzheimer’s, is coping with the loss). This resulting book is easily the most anticipated pop-sociology title of the year, and considers melancholy and the place of sorrow, poignancy and longing in our lives.

2Left on Tenthby Delia Ephron

Ephron, the beloved screenwriter of You’ve Got Mail, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Hanging Up delivers a compelling memoir of love, loss and second chances. After her sister, Nora Ephron, died of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in 2012, and her husband, Jerry Kass, died of prostate cancer in 2015, the New York author found love again at 72, before her own AML diagnosis changed everything yet again. Now 77, she’s survived to tell the triumphant and unlikely tale. (Apr. 12)

3Big Feelingsby Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy

If you could illustrate U.S. humourist Erma Bombeck’s helpful wisdom it would look something like this charming and useful illustrated guide to processing intense emotions, from the New York duo behind hugely popular Instagram account @LizandMollie. (Apr. 26)

4Aurelia Auréliaby Kathryn Davis

To make sense of the death of her husband, Davis, 75, an acclaimed American writer and Guggenheim fellow, weaves disparate associations together in vignettes that reflect on her life, memories and the work of others (such as Ingmar Bergman, Beethoven and TV series Lost). This short but powerful fragmentary book of mourning illuminates the contradictions of grief like nothing you’ve ever read.

5The Madness of Griefby Rev. Richard Coles

An instant bestseller in its native U.K. last year, this book was written by “Britain’s de facto celebrity vicar” – the gay, former 1980s pop star behind the No. 1 dance hit “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Now a minister (and host of the popular BBC Radio 4 Saturday Live program), Coles’s raw memoir contends with the aftermath of his partner David’s unexpected 2019 death, at 43, from alcohol addiction.

6Grief: Letters of Noteby Shaun Usher

This thematic trove of correspondence about grief is compiled by the English founder of the popular website Letters of Note. The earliest is from 45 B.C., and they encompass cultural figures like Samuel Beckett and Audre Lorde, as well as unexpected pairings – such as Albert Einstein’s poignant letter offering solace to his friend, Queen Elisabeth of Belgium, on the death of her husband – as commentary on the emotion we’re all destined to experience.

7Lost & Foundby Kathryn Schulz

“Popular wisdom will tell you that it comes in stages,” Schulz says of grief’s famous five framework. “But the Paleozoic Era also came in stages … and it lasted 290 million years.” The New Yorker staff writer’s memoir of finding true love and losing her father is about having simultaneous, deeply opposite emotions, and the joy and suffering of life.

8In Loveby Amy Bloom

Unfiltered and heartbreaking, the acclaimed American novelist recounts her journey with her husband Brian’s assisted suicide in a memoir that Alain de Botton calls “a beautiful, necessary book for anyone who loves their partner deeply and wonders and worries what the end might be like: poignant, kind, funny and ultimately redemptive.”

9The Book of Grief and Hamburgersby Stuart Ross

A series of bereavements (including that of a close friend and his brother) prompts the Canadian poet to muse on mortality with lyricism and irreverence in this conversational, and often darkly humorous, book-length essay, about a man who has a hard time engaging with grief.

10The AfterGriefby Hope Edelman

Published early in the pandemic, this title was the resounding reply when I asked my local indie bookstore, Type Books, for their best recommendation. Arguing that grief is “a constant emotion” and lifelong process, it’s a soulful guidebook to finding equilibrium after loss by a noted U.S. educator on the forefront of bereavement work.


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