Top 8 Books I Recommend For Grieving & Living Wholeheartedly After Loss

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I often get asked for book recommendations on the topic of grieving. I’m normally a book-addict but I found myself unable to read for the first 6 months after Juggernaut died – I just didn’t have the concentration span or will. Once I started reading again though, to be honest, I found that really great books on grieving are hard to find – partly because I seem to have a fairly unconventional approach to grief and partly because this market is dominated by authors who are pushing a religious agenda, which for me rules the book out as a “great book.” I’ll admit that I’m also fairly allergic to the covers that have stately calligraphic titles in gold print or pictures of doves, clouds, rainbows or flowers on them, which rules out a lot of books on grieving!

So without further ado, here are the books I recommend – 6 of which I enjoy so much that we’ve added them to our Creative Grief Coaching Certification program prescribed reading list.

The Other Side of Sadness by Dr George Bonanno

Having researched trauma and resilience for the past 15 years, and as head of the Loss, Trauma and Emotion Lab for Columbia University, Dr Bonanno provides a pretty thorough review and critique of the popular theories of grieving, and shares the latest research on trauma and resilience. It’s wonderful to see how much more liberating the latest research in regard to it’s judgements about how we respond to loss and trauma, and what we need!

Dr Bonanno’s research shows that there isn’t really a staged or predictable sequential process that we go through when we’re grieving – people’s experiences of grief vary very widely. He dispells the myths of “grief-work”, “closure” and “delayed grief,” and explores the value of various methods for facilitating an experience of ongoing connection even after biological death. He also provides an excellent chapter about how our emotions work.

I enjoyed this book because it does a great job of dispelling many common myths about how we grieve and what we need when we’re grieving, and supports the liberating and affirming core beliefs and approaches that I resonate with.
Buy The Other Side of Sadness

Finding Your Own North Star By Dr Martha Beck

Martha has written 2 new books since publishing Finding Your Own North Star but this one is still my favorite. Martha’s 4-square metaphor for the way that the journey of creating a wholehearted life after loss feels is a very useful tool and she always explains her models with warmth, creativity and humor. A portion of the book – square 1 – is devoted to the topic of grief. She does a really great job of describing what square 1 feels like, what the typical “pitfalls” and places where we get stuck in square 1 are, and how to keep moving through what she calls the “cycle of change.”

This book is the reason I decided to take Martha’s Coach Certification course and my personal copy is doggy-eared, and full of notes and underlined and highlighted sections.
Buy Finding Your Own North Star

I Thought It Was Just Me by Dr Brene Brown

Most grief coaching/ counseling theories talk about the idea of “grief-work” – the notion that we have to work at or on our grief in order to heal. The common approach is to work at trying to “remove” or “overcome” grief. My approach is quite different. I don’t think we need to remove or overcome grief, because it’s a very natural and healthy response that (as Bonanno says) we usually adapt to or out of fairly quickly without intervention. I encourage the approach of embracing or owning all of your grief experience, rather than trying to get rid of it or purge it, because I believe that’s where the most authentic and creative power lies. Rather than trying to “work out” grief, I see my role as helping my clients to understand the impact of shame, and to work on dissolving shame.

Dr Brown’s¬†work is all about the impact of shame, and what we can do to become what she calls “shame resilient,” where we’re able to quickly identify and dissolve shame triggers. There are so many shame triggers in loss events and our experiences of grief and the way that other people respond to our loss events and experiences of grief. Shame adds stress and suffering to grief and separates us from each other, which disconnects us from the valuable transformational and supportive power of connection and community. When we know our shame triggers and can dissolve shame experiences, then we’re always able to know what we need in our grieving journey and we can clearly communicate what we need, which enriches our relationships, giving us access to the transformational power of community.
Buy I Thought It Was Just Me

The Dance Of Anger By Dr Harriet Lerner

The Dance of Anger is ultimately about how we can manage and nurture deeper connections and better relationships with the people who are most important to us – the relationships that are often most difficult. This book helps us to understand the dysfunctional relationship patterns we get into, and how to break those patterns and nurture intimacy instead. It’s also a wonderful resource that addresses the usefulness and transformational power of anger (which is a common emotion in grieving.)

Most approaches to supporting people who are bereaved are focused on the individual, but I believe that connection and community are incredibly important for healing and transformation, so our Creative Grief Coaching model hopes to train grief coaches who have a deep appreciation for the importance of relationship and connection and who are really at their core “relationship coaches” who will help their clients to handle difficult relationships with clarity and love, and discover and nurture connection in their family and community.

Dr Lerner is a highly experienced family and relationship therapist and the author of a dozen books about relationships, intimacy and connection, and has just released a new book, Marriage Rules, about nurturing and improving intimacy with your significant other or spouse, so we’re beyond-thrilled that she’s going to be contributing to our Creative Grief Coaching Certification program for the module on grief, friends and family.
Buy The Dance Of Anger

Re-Membering Lives by Dr Lorraine Hedtke

Dr Hedtke does a really great job of dispelling the myth of “closure” in this book, and clearly demonstrates the necessity and power of connection and community – both for those who are grieving and those who are not grieving right now. Dr Hedtke has pioneered a method for facilitating incredibly healing and transformational community conversations with people who are grieving – conversations that open up some form of ongoing connection to their loved ones who’ve died and also enrich many of their relationships with people who are important to them who are still living.

We’ll be teaching our Creative Grief Coaching Certification participants about the power of remembering and ongoing connection, and the importance of grieving in community, and we’ll be showing them how to facilitate “remembering conversations.” We’re incredibly happy to have Dr Hedtke joining us to help our participants learn her process (and we can’t wait to pick up her new book about the “how to” of remembering conversations, which is coming out in March 2012!)
Buy Re-Membering Lives

Healing Through The Dark Emotions by Miriam Greenspan

The emotional side of grieving is where much of the discussion about “the right” approach gets heated and controversial. Emotions have been baffling (and scaring) us humans for a long time, and since they can be so baffling, scary and painful, it’s usually the side of grieving that we’re most worried about and keen to “fix.”

Greenspan’s book is a wonderful resource that demonstrates the usefulness of all of our emotions – even the really scary or painful ones. Where many people want to focus on “removing” or “overcoming” painful emotions, Greenspan shows how, when we choose to rather fully look at, allow, embrace, and own our emotions, we get access to their positive purpose, we transform our experience of them, and we access our own truth and creative power. She provides wonderful practical and creative tools for doing this and we know our Creative Grief Coaches will return to this perspective-shifting resource again and again.
Buy Healing Through The Dark Emotions

Effortless Evolution by Jamie Smart

This book doesn’t address “grieving” specifically, but it’s a really accessible and useful resource for understanding our innate, resilient, resourceful, peaceful and creative nature, and how to get back to that resilient, resourceful, peaceful and creative self when life circumstances separate us from it. Part philosophy, part psychology, part spirituality, this book offers lots of paradigm-shifting perspectives and ways of understanding ourselves so that we can more readily access our innate resilience, resourcefulness, peacefulness and creativity – regardless of what circumstantial challenges we’re facing.

Smart is an incredibly elegant, creative and skilled teacher, with a rich understanding and practice in strengths-based change-work, so we’re really pleased that he will be joining us to share more about his approach and philosophies.
This is a free ebook. You can get it here.

Curious? by Dr Todd Kashdan

Curiosity is a key attitude and practice if you want to find peace in your grief and create a wholehearted life after loss. In this book, Dr Kashdan argues that we should stop pursuing happiness because the research shows that we’re not really very good at knowing what would make us happy. Instead of avoiding what we fear and pursuing happiness, we should get clear on our personal values and pursue curiosity and meaning, exploring and pursuing experiences that are aligned with our personal values.

This rigorously-researched book will show you how curiosity can dramatically transform your relationships, your work, your self-esteem and how you feel about your life. Dr Kashdan also shares really practical exercises to help you to develop your curiosity.
Buy Curious?

Which books have you found most useful in your grieving journey?


Would you like guidance to explore and heal your grief?

I’ve put together a 35-page grief “workbook” for you; an introduction to Remembering For Good and living wholeheartedly after loss. Learn more about the Remembering For Good grief workbook.

The first book in the QUESTIONS + ART AFTER LOSS series, Untangle Your Grief is a beautiful 65-page book of artful questions and creativity-sparking art prompts to help you to create meaning, belonging, and hope after loss.

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2 Responses to Top 8 Books I Recommend For Grieving & Living Wholeheartedly After Loss
  1. Rupa
    January 31, 2012 | 2:05 pm

    Hi Cath.

    Two books I’ve found personally very helpful are Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser and Awakening from Grief by John E. Welshons. I also lost my only child, our son Narottama, when I was 5 months pregnant in 2008. Your story and your message resonate so deeply. thank you.

    • CathDuncan
      February 8, 2012 | 6:11 pm

      @Rupa Hi Rupa, Thank you for adding those titles. I’ve had Elizabeth Lesser’s book recommended by a few people, so it’s time I looked out for it, hey!? I’ll look out for the other one too. Big love to you, Narottama and the rest of your family. Thank you for reading.

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