12 Books About Grief That Offer Comfort and Healing
If you've experienced a loss (or know someone who has), pick up one of these books about grief, which offer comfort and hope in the midst of pain
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Finding comfort after a loss
Grief is extremely difficult to process, but each of us will experience it at some point in our lives. When we do, we’ll face questions we may not be able to answer on our own: How do you move forward after your life changes in the blink of an eye? Is it possible to fully heal after loss? How can the earth continue to spin when your world has come to a complete stop? Reading inspirational books can offer solace during tough times, but your current pain from loss may require the grief-focused practices of a different book genre. Books about grief, specifically, take a more careful approach and may pave the way to healing.
Leaning on the words of others who have experienced a loss can reassure you that you’re not alone. Still, it can be intimidating to find grief books that will best assist your specific grieving process or resonate with a loved one in trying times. The first thing to know is that the best books about grief are those that readers can relate to and find comfort in.
For even more advice, we turned to therapists and mental health professionals who deal with the heavy topic for a living. They recommended books that will best get someone through the grieving process in a healthy way. Whether you’re looking for yourself or want to include a book in a sympathy gift along with a condolence message for someone you care about, these 12 books about grief—the majority of them recommended by experts—are must-reads.
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1. It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine
Best for: Those who want to feel understood
Therapist Megan Devine uses a careful approach to tackle misconceptions about grief through words of comfort. Whether you’ve personally experienced a loss or need help with the right things to say to someone who’s grieving, you’ll find it easy to relate to It’s OK That You’re Not OK. In this 2017 title, Devine challenges cultural influences on grief to offer proactive methods, wisdom and ways of thinking to heal and get through the pain. She uses a gentle approach to address the myths of grief, including the idea that it’s something you can quickly get over. This is a hopeful, understanding guide that’ll help you grow alongside your grief with patience and grace.
“It’s OK That You’re Not OK is an invaluable resource for individuals navigating the intricate and often isolating journey of grief,” says Edmonia Doe, an Atlanta-based licensed professional counselor. “This compassionate and inclusive book offers a fresh perspective on grief, challenging societal norms and providing practical tools for healing. I highly recommend it as a source of comfort, understanding and guidance for readers seeking solace in a culture that may not fully comprehend the profound depth of their grief. With its empathetic approach and actionable advice, [this book] is a powerful tool that will undoubtedly resonate with readers and enrich their understanding of the grieving process.”
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2. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping & Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One by Brook Noel & Pamela D. Blair, PhD
Best for: Readers needing comfort from a sudden loss
More often than not, grief is unexpected. With that in mind, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye offers words, tools and support that will help you cope with life’s biggest and most sudden setbacks. Published in 2008, the book—and the authors’ words of solace—still holds weight. It’ll help you not only get through your grief but also manage the long-term mental and emotional effects that are common with any grieving process. There are self-exploration questions, activities and journaling prompts that will help you dig deep to get the healing you deserve.
“[This] is a highly recommended resource for individuals grieving the sudden loss of a loved one,” says Doe. “This book provides practical guidance, a compassionate tone and personal stories that make it an invaluable tool for those seeking comfort, guidance and a deeper understanding of their grief.”
3. The Museum of Ordinary People by Mike Gayle
Best for: Readers who’ve lost a parent
Published this past spring, Mike Gayle’s The Museum of Ordinary People is a heartwarming exploration of the symbolic and emotional attachments to items left behind by the people we love. As this feel-good novel begins, Jess finally gathers the strength to sell her childhood home after the passing of her mother, but she’s taken aback when she discovers an old set of encyclopedias her mother gifted to her. These now-worthless encyclopedias are a symbol of a mother’s hopes and dreams for her daughter, and knowing that makes letting go even harder. Grappling with what to do, Jess discovers a mysterious museum that cares for keepsakes, treasured belongings and heartfelt stories of loved ones, spanning generations and continents.
As someone who has experienced losing a parent, I found Jess’s grieving process often relatable, and the story made hope feel much more attainable. Through lovable characters and compassionate storytelling, Gayle offers an insightful look at grief, returning to our dreams and the overbearing challenge of letting go.
4. The Reality Slap: How to Survive and Thrive When Life Hits Hard by Russ Harris
Best for: Readers seeking to cultivate purpose in life after loss
This guide to navigating life’s tougher moments can help you reclaim your life after a seriously painful setback, including grief. First published in 2012, Russ Harris’s book offers readers a chance to continue on with life after loss through comprehensive advice and case studies that’ll give you the tools you need to come out on top of any “reality slap” life throws at you.
“I often recommend The Reality Slap by Russ Harris to clients going through bereavement because of the book’s compassionate and practical approach to guiding them through their grieving progress,” says Juulia Karlstedt, a therapist in Edinburgh, Scotland. “At its core, The Reality Slap is a book about finding acceptance and growing resilience in the moments when life truly knocks us down. Russ Harris does a beautiful job normalizing and validating painful human experiences while providing practical mindfulness-based techniques to help you explore what a meaningful and value-led life following your loss looks like for you.”
5. The Grief Collective: Stories of Life, Loss & Learning to Heal by Dr. Marianne Trent
Best for: Those in search of healing after loss
If you’re hunting for books about grief by people who’ve been there, and felt that, pick up a copy of The Grief Collective. It features a ton of advice and heartfelt words for those in bereavement from dozens of experts—everyday people who have gone through it. In this 2020 collection of 54 stories, you’ll gain practical insight into the grieving process, learn how others made it through their grief and find out which resources and practices helped them along the way.
“The reader is taken through an emotive journey of lived experience to help them learn about grief, including complex grief. The narratives include cancer, dementia, stroke, suicide, loss of relationship, miscarriage, accidental death, COVID-19, pet loss and many more experiences,” says Tara Quinn-Cirillo, a psychologist in Sussex, England, and host of The Adversity Psychologist podcast. “The book also provides professional insight into ways to cope with grief and manage more complex issues, such as where there may have been a difficult relationship with the person when they were alive. The Grief Collective also supports the reader [in thinking] about how to heal and live life again after loss. It also covers how to support others and begin conversations around grief.”
6. Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief by Pauline Boss
Best for: Anyone grieving an unresolved loss
Plenty of books about grief offer advice for mourning someone who has passed away, but there’s a different kind of grief that hurts just as much. Grieving someone who’s still living requires a different approach. We’re not always allotted the closure we feel we deserve, and that alone can cause unwavering sadness. Ambiguous Loss can help you grapple with the sort of unresolved loss you might experience around issues of chronic mental illness, dementia, immigration and so much more.
“Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, which is more than 20 years old but still full of relevant guidance, is a unique book because it delves into types of loss and grief that are often not considered in standard self-help books,” says Dale Larson, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Santa Clara University in California. “Pauline Boss’s book speaks to the losses one may experience due to divorce, addiction, mental illness, adoption and many other issues that we often face in our lives.”
7. A Widow’s Guide to Healing: Gentle Support and Advice for the First 5 Years by Kristin Meekhof and James Windell
Best for: Those grieving the loss of a spouse
Losing your life partner is a heartbreaking experience that’s difficult to translate into words. Not only are you forced to proceed with life—without your other half to lean on—but you’re also faced with a brokenness that feels too painful to endure. Kristin Meekhof experienced firsthand the difficulty of losing a spouse and the crucial decisions left to make in the wake of such tragedy, and it’s that firsthand experience that informs A Widow’s Guide to Healing. This reassuring guide, published in 2015, details how to heal and navigate during your first five years as a widow. Part comfort, part practical advice, the book touches on common events: becoming a single parent, handling financial responsibilities, navigating your career and heaps of other situations that can be intimidating to approach.
“A Widow’s Guide to Healing is a wonderful resource in a difficult time because it goes so far beyond addressing just how one may be feeling,” says Larson. “It is a really much-needed blueprint for grieving widows who are dealing with so many different kinds of challenges. It discusses everything from their financial estate to how to now be a single parent to dealing with difficult in-laws. I recommend it highly to anyone who might be in this situation.”
8. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Best for: Anyone experiencing a loss during other troubling circumstances
Sad books aren’t typically a first pick, but this one is a must-grab. Celebrated writer Joan Didion’s raw and touching account of losing her husband—and witnessing his death—while their daughter was fighting an ongoing battle with sickness is a thought-provoking piece that will resonate with anyone, whether they’re grieving or not. The year following her husband’s death, her daughter’s recovery and her own health issues is filled with startling memories, questions of reality and the author’s attempt to research and understand her grief. Originally published in 2005, The Year of Magical Thinking is a close examination of romantic love and grappling with the reality of the darkness that appears after that love is lost.
“It’s a classic book that explains how one woman dealt with the loss of her husband at the same time her daughter was in a coma. She describes how her brain used to play tricks on her, and she couldn’t quite grasp the permanency of her loss,” says Amy Morin, LCSW, a psychotherapist and host of the Mentally Stronger podcast. It can help anyone who thinks they may be losing touch with reality a bit as they grieve a loss and [will help them] discover that our brains’ responses are often quite normal given the situation.”
9. The Sweetest Therapy by Chase Cassine
Best for: Readers battling grief who find baking therapeutic
When Chase Cassine lost his mother, his grief took him to the kitchen. The result is 2021’s The Sweetest Therapy, a spin on the traditional memoir that uses baking to help readers through the grieving process. In this hybrid cookbook, Cassine, a licensed clinical social worker, shares his experience with grief and offers healthy coping mechanisms and recipes that provide comforting sweetness to counter the bitter moments of mourning a loss. Cassine’s goal with the book is to “positively impact others enduring sorrow, spread awareness about the process of mental and emotional recovery that accompanies substantial grief, discourage the use of negative coping methods to deal with pain and encourage people to find their sweet spot by exploring healthy ways to face the trials of life.”
10. A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes
Best for: Children trying to make sense of grief
This illustrated children’s book, published in 2000, is perfect for adults who need help comforting and providing an explanation to a grieving child. And it does so through a short, sweet story centered on Sherman Smith, who witnessed something terrible that has left lingering effects on his life. He is anxious, plagued by nightmares and experiencing a downward spiral in his behavior. His teacher notices and offers kind words and guidance to help Sherman understand his emotions and heal from his grief.
“This book is a great tool to discuss grief and loss with children,” says Kiva Harper, a trauma-focused therapist in Texas. “It helps to begin a dialogue and allows caregivers the ability to supplement with age-appropriate conversations.”
11. Good Grief by Brianna Pastor
Best for: Anyone who finds hope in poetry
Grief-specific poetry, like funeral poems, uses rhyme schemes and metaphors that touch the soul where it needs it the most. This 2022 collection of poetry and prose will tug at your emotions while making you feel seen. Penned over a period of 10 years, Good Grief uses poetry to touch on themes of trauma, loss, self-worth and growth. Poet Brianna Pastor’s moving words encourage readers to experience and appreciate the beauty of life even in a painful season of loss.
12. Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Best for: Those who need strength to get through the unsettling parts of grief
Bestselling author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (you’ve likely heard of her massively popular fiction book Americanah) recounts the loss of her father in this 2021 memoir. Although it’s beautifully told—you’ll think you’re reading the author’s personal journal—Adichie notes how ugly grief can get and the anger it can provoke. Her pain pulses through her prose, but there’s also a sense of unfaltering love as she honors her father by discussing his upbringing, his career as a professor and his last moments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Notes on Grief is an expansion of her original heartfelt piece, which ran in the New Yorker.
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About the experts
- Edmonia Doe, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor in Atlanta.
- Juulia Karlstedt is a BACP-accredited therapist in Edinburgh, Scotland.
- Tara Quinn-Cirillo, CPsychol, AFBPsS, is a psychologist and the host of The Adversity Psychologist podcast.
- Dale Larson, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and professor at Santa Clara University in California.
- Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do and host of the Mentally Stronger podcast.
- Kiva Harper, LCSW-S, is a therapist in Texas who focuses on trauma.