Reading about grief

Reading accounts of grief can help you through bereavement, but books that see grief as an opportunity for growth seem to misunderstand that not everything is an opportunity and that some things can’t be made better.


It’s been three years on Sunday since my daughter Anisha was killed and it doesn’t get any easier, even though we are more used to the everydayness of it. It’s still unbelievable. There are chinks when the reality of it gets in and a sense of panic invades, but I quickly go back to pretend mode to get me through the day.

Every day I still wake up thinking how am I going to get out of bed and keep going. People tell me ‘I don’t think I could keep going if my daughter died’. It’s really not that helpful, but I guess they don’t know what to say. The truth is you just put one foot in front of the other and fill the day with work or other activity to stop yourself from thinking.

One of the things that helps me is to frame the day with diary writing – to my lovely Nish, filling her in on what has happened as if she is just on another continent and is coming home some day – and reading books about bereavement. I’ve collected a whole library over the last three years. I started with memoirs specifically about the death of a child. I’ve also read books by people whose sibling has died – in the hope it would help me with my daughter’s siblings. The thing I’m most worried about is that they feel I am totally consumed by the grief and have no time for them. A neighbour told me after my daughter died that their lives were essentially over. At least that’s how I took her comments. They horrified me. Her siblings are so young. They deserve full lives that are about more than this unending sadness.

After the memoirs came generalised books on grief, Julia Samuel’s books and Megan Devine’s It’s OK that you’re not OK standing out in particular. Then books about trauma – The Body Keeps the Score being a favourite, although not really about bereavement. I’m now onto novels. My counsellor recommended Staring at the sun by Irvin Yalom, but I’m not sure about that one. It seems a bit of a one-trick pony – the idea that all death is about our own mortality fears and that it is because life is short that it is so precious. It seems a bit trite, plus I’m no more scared of dying now than I was before. In fact, I would say that I am much less scared about me dying. However, my fear of other people dying has definitely increased. I’m constantly on alert. My daughter had a sore throat the other day and I texted her the meningitis symptoms [I’d just read a review of Michael Rosen’s book about his son dying of meningitis]. I need to know where the kids are all the time. My son wanted to go to a shopping centre with his friends and I said yes, but that he needed to stick with them at all times in case of problems. He said ‘what could happen in a shopping centre, mum?’. Anything was my reply. Anything can happen anywhere at any time.

I need to get out of panic mode as it’s exhausting, but I know that by being hyper alert I am just trying to keep them safe and to save Anisha, even though I can’t. The worst has happened.

The other thing that annoys be sometimes about some grief books is that they are often focused on the survivor, almost, in some cases, presenting death as an opportunity for growth or some such. It’s a very individualised approach that I don’t find helpful. For me my daughter’s death is all about her, not me. The person she was. The unfairness of it all. The knock-on impact on everyone who knew her. And it’s certainly not something that can be dressed up in personal development language and marketed as an ‘opportunity’.  Some things are just sad and always will be. We can’t make them better, although, as a parent of grieving children, that is a very painful thing to accept. Sharing memories can offer temporary respite, but essentially this is beyond the power of words. We just have to learn to live with it.

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