Writers Who Grieve

As a young clinician and grief therapist (and bereaved parent), I read every clinical book I could find about the experience of grief and loss. I believed I could find solutions to the anguish my clients and I felt by reading the experts in the field. As my understanding about grief changed from a condition to be cured to a story of love to be honored, my reading habits changed as well. I began to read writers who had experienced loss. Theirs was a different approach to loss than the professionals I read. Their stories and poems were not written through the lens of what should be happening but what was authentically happening. These authors’ words were beautiful and soulful, and with their immense talent they were able to cut to the core of the grief experience.

Some of my favorites are: “Wave” by Sonali Deraniyagala;  “Gabriel: A Poem” by Edward Hirsch; “The Long Goodbye: A Memoir” by Meghan O’Rourke; “Unforgettable: A Son, A Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime” by Scott Simon; and “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion.

This passage by Meghan O’Rourke is an example of beautiful writing about the yearning for a loved one: “I was thinking about how hard it was to say how much I missed my mother, yet how central the feeling was. It is heartsickness, like the sadness you feel after a breakup, but many times stronger and more desperate. I miss her: I want to talk to her, hear her voice, have a joke with her. I am willing for us to be ‘broken up’ if she’ll just have dinner with me once. And as I was walking I thought, ‘I will carry this wound forever.’ It’s not a question of getting over it or healing. No, it’s a question of learning to live with the transformation. For the loss is transformative, in good ways and bad, a tangle of change that cannot be threaded into the usual narrative spools. It is too central for that. It’s not an emergence from the cocoon, but a tree growing around an obstruction.”1

In my book “Getting Grief Right: Finding Your Story of Love in the Sorrow of Loss,” I list several more books by writers that you may find helpful as you mourn the people you have loved.

1. O’Rourke, Meghan. The Long Goodbye: A Memoir (New York: Riverhead Books, 2011), 119.

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Stack of assorted hardback and paperback books or journals - some with bookmarks - closeup detail with selective focus

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Dr. Patrick O’Malley is a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling. For 35 years, he has counseled individuals, couples and families in his private practice. Dr. O'Malley has recently published a book, "Getting Grief Right" about grief recovery.

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