Thoughtful reads for anyone who’s suffering from the loss of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, or even the death of a dream.
This time of year, the cold dreary days (in the Northern regions, anyway), seem to go on and on. We huddle in front of our fireplaces waiting for any hint of spring. The ground is frozen solid and everything, even our souls, it seems, lie dormant.
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But then slowly, the plants, which have been dead in the frozen tundra all winter, stick their green shoots from the dark earth, and right around Easter the daffodils and tulips burst into brilliant colors. This journey from death to new life mirrors the Easter story, and our own lives. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, or the ending of a relationship, or even the death of a dream, loss is the fertile soil that becomes the foundation for new life.
Whether you officially observe Lent or not, here are some books to read during this season about loss, grief, death—but also about redemption and new life. So curl up next to the fireplace, read, and be inspired that sometime soon, the new shoots will be poking through the earth and reaching toward the sky.
by Marilyn Robinson
This book is part of a loose trilogy that includes two other Robinson novels: Gilead (which won a Pulitzer Prize) and Home. But Lila can also be read on its own. Lila, the main character, was born into poverty and neglected by her parents. Eventually, as a young woman, she finds herself living in a shack on the edge of the town of Gilead, Iowa. One day she wanders into a church to get out of the rain, and meets Reverend Ames. So begins and unlikely and beautiful love story, filled with deep theological questions. Lila has a hard time trusting anyone. But seeing how she allows herself to be loved into healing is as beautiful as the roses she quietly brings back to life in Reverend Ames’ garden.
by Brendan McManus, SJ
The Camino de Santiago, also called “The Way,” is a 500-mile pilgrimage that leads to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in Spain. Many people hike the trail in order to find healing and spiritual growth. Fr. Brendan McManus set out to walk this pilgrimage after his brother committed suicide. This book is about his journey, and how he struggles to let go of the anger, guilt, and sorrow of his brother’s death. He experiences many obstacles, including heat, wrong turns, and a leg injury, and discovers that the path to peace isn’t easy, but that facing our grief and walking through it ultimately leads us to wholeness and healing.
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Published in 1911, this classic English children’s book tells the story of a spoiled and selfish 10-year-old girl, Mary Lennox, who is orphaned when her parents die of cholera. She is sent to live with her uncle in an isolated estate in Yorkshire, England. Mary is unhappy in her new home, but discovers a walled garden that was kept by her late aunt. In the process of exploring the garden with the maid’s 12-year-old brother, and an ill cousin, Mary blossoms (as do the other characters). The book is about loss, but also about how kindness, compassion, and community can lead to healing and hope.
Edited by Kevin Young
This collection explores the themes of loss and redemption with the help of 150 poems by old and new poets. The anthology is divided into six sections: Reckoning, Regret, Remembrance, Rituals, Recovery, and Redemption, and includes poems by W. H. Auden, Billy Collins, Emily Dickinson, Ted Hughes, Marianne Moore, Mary Oliver, Robert Pinsky, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Wallace Stevens, Dylan Thomas, and James Wright, and many more. This isn’t a book just for those who have recently lost a loved one, but for those who have experienced loss in any form, recently or in the past.
by Ann Voskamp
Ann Voskamp, a farmer’s wife who lives in Canada, is a popular blogger and wrote the best-selling book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. That book explored how to find joy in the midst of darkness. Her most recent book, The Broken Way, expands on that theme, “how do we live in the face of pain?” All of us endure pain and brokenness. How do we find joy and live abundantly with that brokenness? Voskamp convinces readers that brokenness isn’t just to be endured, but embraced and celebrated.
Compiled by Sarah Arthur
Starting with Ash Wednesday, this is a collection of prayers, poems and literature that readers can savor throughout Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide. It includes pieces from writers such as Teresa of Avila, Emily Bronte, Wendell Berry, Jane Austen, Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor and many more. This book is a rich resource during the dark winter days as you wait for the signs of spring. It explores the themes of darkness and light, repentance and joy, and offers much food for thought and self reflection.
by Lauren Winner
Lauren Winner, a professor at Duke Divinity School, wrote an acclaimed memoir, Girl Meets God, about her conversion to Christianity. This book, Still, written 10 years later, explores her crisis in faith after the death of her mother and the ending of her marriage. It’s her “dark night of the soul,” as St. John of the Cross would say. Her initial enthusiasm for her faith has given way to depression. She explores her feelings of grief, failure and doubt. But through reading, her community and the Church, she starts to see a bit of the dawn after enduring the long dark night.
by Mary Jo Bang
Written after her son died, Bang explores the landscape of her grief through this collection of poems. If you have ever lost someone you love, you know how hard it is to describe grief. These poems reflect her frustration. She writes: “That’s where things went wrong./ Is went into language.” But reading how she tries to come to terms with her loss shows the beauty and depth of her love for her son. And like any good writing, her poems move past the personal into the universal. Reading her poems helps you to feel less alone in your own indescribable grief.
by Scott Cairns
If you’ve ever asked “why” during a painful loss, this book seeks to explore that question. Is there a purpose to our suffering? As a starting point, he contemplates the loss of his beloved dogs. And he is also surprised when a young undergraduate at the university where he teaches asks him how he thinks 9/11 has changed America. He explores the idea that suffering and pain can be a wake-up call. As writer Simone Weil writes, “Affliction compels us to recognize as real what we do not think possible.”
by C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis was one of the most influential writers of his day. He taught literature at Oxford and Cambridge universities, and wrote more than 30 books, including The Chronicles of Narnia series and Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold. Later in his life, wrote this classic memoir about grief after his wife, Joy, died of cancer. It captures the raw and unsettling feelings of grief, and shows that even a renowned intellectual and Christian author can question his faith in the wake of loss.
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