Best Books About Death, Grief And Mortality

 

Processing grief can be a significant challenge to those directly experiencing loss and their loved ones. People’s experience of grief is very subjective, and as a culture, there is a considerable lack of literacy around death and grieving considering that it is an integral part of every single person’s life. This can leave us feeling isolated and unsupported in our grief, at a time when we need people and support most.

Reading books about grief, death and mortality should be ever-present throughout our lives, not just limited to times of grief.  Death affects us all. Yet it is still a taboo in our society, and grief is still profoundly misunderstood. There are some fascinating books based on personal and professional experiences which can be of great comfort and offer understanding of the matter, for adults and children alike.

While no single text can offer a simple answer, at Bios Urn ® we have compiled a list of books about grief, death and mortality that give a different perspective on death and that can, at the very least, help you better understand the grieving process.

 

Best Books On Grief, Death And Mortality

 

With the end in mind

by Kathryn Mannix

A palliative care doctor’s breathtaking stories from 30 years spent caring for the dying.

Modern medical technology is allowing us to live longer and fuller lives than ever before. And for the most part, that is good news. But with changes in the way we understand medicine come changes in the way we understand death. Once a familiar, peaceful, and gentle — if sorrowful — transition, death has come to be something from which we shield our eyes, as we prefer to fight desperately against it rather than accept its inevitability.

Dr. Kathryn Mannix has studied and practiced palliative care for thirty years. In With the End in Mind , she shares beautifully crafted stories from a lifetime of caring for the dying, and makes a compelling case for the therapeutic power of approaching death not with trepidation, but with openness, clarity, and understanding.

Weaving the details of her own experiences as a caregiver through stories of her patients, their families, and their distinctive lives, Dr. Mannix reacquaints us with the universal, but deeply personal, process of dying. With insightful meditations on life, death, and the space between them, With the End in Mind describes the possibility of meeting death gently, with forethought and preparation, and shows the unexpected beauty, dignity, and profound humanity of life coming to an end.

 

A Matter of Death and Life: Love, Loss and What Matters in the End

by Irvin D. Yalom and Marilyn Yalom

Internationally renowned psychiatrist and author Irvin Yalom has devoted his career to counselling those suffering from anxiety and grief. But never had he faced the need to counsel himself until his wife, esteemed feminist author Marilyn Yalom, was diagnosed with cancer. In A MATTER OF DEATH AND LIFE, Marilyn and Irvin share how they took on profound new struggles: Marilyn to die a good death, Irvin to live on without her.

In alternating accounts of their last months together and Irvin’s first months alone, they offer us a rare window into coping with death and the loss of one’s beloved. The Yaloms had rare blessings – a loving family, a beautiful home, a large circle of friends, avid readers around the world, and a long, fulfilling marriage – but they faced death as we all do. With the candour and wisdom of those who have thought deeply and loved well, they investigate universal questions of intimacy, love, and grief.

Informed by two lifetimes of experience, A MATTER OF DEATH AND LIFE offers poignant insights and solace to all those seeking to fight despair in the face of death, so that they can live meaningfully.

 

The Plain Guide to Grief

by Dr. John Wilson

In plain language, this book tells you how to manage your grief following a life changing loss. It tells you what to expect in the coming weeks, months and years.

Your grief is unique. Nobody has ever grieved like you are doing, so this is a guide to support you in your journey, not a method for you to follow. If you are reading this because you are grieving a loss, then most likely a person close to you has died. However, this book can help with other difficult losses. Loss of a job, of health, of a friendship or an intimate relationship, are just some of the losses that we grieve. ‘Loved one’ can refer to a pet too.The plain and simple language of the book is important when your loss is new. Grief makes it hard to concentrate, so this book uses simple words, short sentences and not too many words on a page.

The author, Dr John Wilson, has supported hundreds of grieving people over the past twenty years, and continues to research how people grieve. This book is based on the real experience of grieving people whose stories have been made anonymous. Dr Wilson is author of ‘Supporting People through Loss and Grief: An introduction for Counsellors and Other Caring Practitioners.’ Published in 2013, it is often used to train bereavement counsellors and volunteers in bereavement support. This edition includes a chapter on bereavement from and during the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

Bios Urn Blog: Best Books About Grief, Death And Mortality

With the end in mind by Kathryn Mannix

 

Grief Day By Day: Simple Practices and Daily Guidance for Living with Loss

By Jan Warner

Grief Day by Day offers supportive readings and exercises to help you move through life after loss, one day at a time.

Grief is complex. It is ever changing and may come to us differently on any given day. Grief Day by Day offers reflections and practices that address the day-to-day feelings that accompany the ever changing process of grief.

In Grief Day by Day, Jan Warner draws on her own extensive experience and the experiences of the 2 million followers on her Grief Speaks Out Facebook page to offer hope in its most practical form. This book does not look to offer a solution to grief. Rather, it provides supportive, useful guidance to help you create a life in which peace, and even gratitude, can coexist with your grief.

Inside the pages of Grief Day by Day you’ll find:

  • 365 Daily Reflections that include quotes, meditations, and other musings on grief
  • Weekly Themes that capture common feelings and experiences such as: Loneliness, Things Left Unsaid, Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms, Guilt, and Intimacy
  • 52 Healing Exercises that help you process your feelings at the end of each week and develop skills for coping with grief as it arises

There is no “right way” to grieve, and there is no right way to use this book. Whether you follow it page by page, or select that which seems most relevant to you at the moment, how you use this book is less important than why you are using it. You’re using this book because you have chosen to honor your experience, to make a home for your grief, and to find a new way of living on the bridge between loss and life.

 

It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t

By Megan Devine

Challenging conventional wisdom on grief, a pioneering therapist offers a new resource for those experiencing loss

When a painful loss or life-shattering event upends your world, here is the first thing to know: there is nothing wrong with grief. “Grief is simply love in its most wild and painful form,” says Megan Devine. “It is a natural and sane response to loss.”

So, why does our culture treat grief like a disease to be cured as quickly as possible?

In It’s OK That You’re Not OK, Megan Devine offers a profound new approach to both the experience of grief and the way we try to help others who have endured tragedy. Having experienced grief from both sides—as both a therapist and as a woman who witnessed the accidental drowning of her beloved partner—Megan writes with deep insight about the unspoken truths of loss, love, and healing. She debunks the culturally prescribed goal of returning to a normal, “happy” life, replacing it with a far healthier middle path, one that invites us to build a life alongside grief rather than seeking to overcome it. In this compelling and heartful book, you’ll learn:

• Why well-meaning advice, therapy, and spiritual wisdom so often end up making it harder for people in grief
• How challenging the myths of grief—doing away with stages, timetables, and unrealistic ideals about how grief should unfold—allows us to accept grief as a mystery to be honored instead of a problem to solve
• Practical guidance for managing stress, improving sleep, and decreasing anxiety without trying to “fix” your pain
• How to help the people you love—with essays to teach us the best skills, checklists, and suggestions for supporting and comforting others through the grieving process

Many people who have suffered a loss feel judged, dismissed, and misunderstood by a culture that wants to “solve” grief. Megan writes, “Grief no more needs a solution than love needs a solution.” Through stories, research, life tips, and creative and mindfulness-based practices, she offers a unique guide through an experience we all must face—in our personal lives, in the lives of those we love, and in the wider world.

It’s OK That You’re Not OK is a book for grieving people, those who love them, and all those seeking to love themselves—and each other—better.

 

Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving

By Julia Samuel

Death affects us all. Yet it is still the last taboo in our society, and grief is still profoundly misunderstood…

In Grief Works we hear stories from those who have experienced great love and great loss – and survived. Stories that explain how grief unmasks our greatest fears, strips away our layers of protection and reveals our innermost selves. Julia Samuel, a grief psychotherapist, has spent twenty-five years working with the bereaved and understanding the full repercussions of loss. This deeply affecting book is full of psychological insights on how grief, if approached correctly, can heal us. Through elegant, moving stories, we learn how we can stop feeling awkward and uncertain about death, and not shy away from talking honestly with family and friends. This extraordinary book shows us how to live and learn from great loss.

 

This Too Shall Pass: Stories of Change, Crisis and Hopeful Beginnings

By Julia Samuel

If change is the natural order of things, why do we struggle with the huge milestones in our lives?

At a time when even the most certain things feel disrupted, acclaimed psychotherapist Julia Samuel provides an antidote to the chaos we are all feeling. In this Sunday Times bestseller, Julia draws on hours of conversations with her patients to show how we can learn to adapt and even thrive during our most difficult and transformative experiences.

From a new mother struggling with the decision to return to work, to a father handling a serious medical diagnosis, from a woman deciding whether to leave her husband for a younger lover, to a man struggling to repair his marriage after the trauma of suffering with COVID-19 in the ICU, this book unflinchingly deals with the hard times in family, love, work, health and identity.

Illuminated by the latest social and psychological research, these 19 powerful, unforgettable and deeply intimate stories about everyday people will inform our understanding of our own unique response to change and improve the way we approach challenges at every stage of life.

 

Bios Urn Blog: Best Books About Grief, Death And Mortality

Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End By Atul Gawande

 

The Madness of Grief: A Memoir of Love and Loss

By Richard Coles

Whether it is pastoral care for the bereaved, discussions about the afterlife, or being called out to perform the last rites, death is part of the Reverend Richard Coles’s life and work. But when his partner the Reverend David Coles died, shortly before Christmas in 2019, much about death took Coles by surprise. For one thing, David’s death at the early age of forty-three was unexpected.

The man that so often assists others to examine life’s moral questions now found himself in need of help. He began to look to others for guidance to steer him through his grief. The flock was leading the shepherd. Much about grief surprised him: the volume of ‘sadmin’ you have to do when someone dies, how much harder it is travelling for work alone, even the pain of typing a text message to your partner – then realising you are alone.

The Reverend Richard Coles’s deeply personal account of life after grief will resonate, unforgettably, with anyone who has lost a loved one.

 

With the End in Mind: How to Live and Die Well

By Kathryn Mannix

Kathryn Mannix has spent her medical career working with people who have incurable, advanced illnesses. Told through a series of beautifully crafted stories taken from nearly four decades of clinical practice, her book answers the most intimate questions about the process of dying with touching honesty and humanity.

She makes a compelling case for the therapeutic power of approaching death not with trepidation but with openness, clarity and understanding. With the End in Mind is a book for us all: the grieving and bereaved, ill and healthy.

Open these pages and you will find stories about people who are like you, and like people you know and love. You will meet Holly, who danced her last day away; Eric, the retired head teacher who, even with Motor Neurone Disease, gets things done; loving, tender-hearted Nelly and Joe, each living a lonely lie to save their beloved from distress; and Sylvie, 19, dying of leukaemia, sewing a cushion for her mum to hug by the fire after she has died. These are just four of the book’s thirty-odd stories of normal humans, dying normal human deaths. They show how the dying embrace living not because they are unusual or brave, but because that’s what humans do. By turns touching, tragic, at times funny and always wise, they offer us illumination, models for action, and hope.

 

Mindfulness & Grief

By Heather Stang

Experiencing grief and loss is one of life’s greatest challenges. Mindfulness & Grief is your self-care toolkit, designed to give you the coping skills you need for the short term, and help you cultivate a life of wellness and meaning, even in the wake of loss.

Experiencing grief and loss is one of life’s greatest challenges. Mindfulness & Grief is your self-care toolkit, designed to give you the coping skills you need for the short term, and help you cultivate a life of wellness and meaning, even in the wake of loss.

Combining inspirational stories of hope and healing with contemporary grief research, evidence-based meditation techniques, and the knowledge that each of us grieves in our own way, Mindfulness & Grief has helped thousands of people worldwide navigate the disorienting path of loss. Based on the 8-week program developed by thanatologist and meditation teacher Heather Stang, there are over 35 meditation, yoga, journaling, and expressive arts exercises. They are designed to help you ease your physical symptoms of grief, calm your mind, and regulate difficult emotions. You will discover how to increase compassion toward yourself and others, make meaning from your loss and honor your loved one, and develop your new self-narrative for moving forward. The program is accessible to anyone—regardless of physical ability—and does not require any previous meditation or yoga experience.

 

 

Bios Urn Blog: Best Books About Grief, Death And Mortality

Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief By Joanne Cacciatore

 

Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande

In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

 

We all know how this ends: Lessons about life and living from working with death and dying

By Anna Lyons and Louise Winter

We all know how this ends is a new approach to death and dying, showing how exploring our mortality really can change our lives.

If we acknowledge and accept our mortality, can we live a better life? If we embrace the end of life in the same way as we embrace the beginning, can we transform our lives?

End-of-life doula Anna Lyons and funeral director Louise Winter have joined forces to share a collection of the heartbreaking, surprising and uplifting stories of the ordinary and extraordinary lives they encounter every single day.

From working with the living, the dying, the dead and the grieving, Anna and Louise share the lessons they’ve learnt about life, death, love and loss.

This is a book about life and living, as much as it’s a book about death and dying. It’s a reflection on the beauties, blessings and tragedies of life, the exquisite agony and ecstasy of being alive, and the fragility of everything we hold dear. It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

 

Bearing the Unbearable: Love, Loss, and the Heartbreaking Path of Grief

By Joanne Cacciatore

If you love, you will grieve—and nothing is more mysteriously central to becoming fully human.

When a loved one dies, the pain of loss can feel unbearable—especially in the case of a traumatizing death that leaves us shouting, “NO!” with every fiber of our body. The process of grieving can feel wild and nonlinear—and often lasts for much longer than other people, the nonbereaved, tell us it should.

Organized into fifty-two short chapters, Bearing the Unbearable is a companion for life’s most difficult times, revealing how grief can open our hearts to connection, compassion, and the very essence of our shared humanity. Dr. Joanne Cacciatore—bereavement educator, researcher, Zen priest, and leading counselor in the field—accompanies us along the heartbreaking path of love, loss, and grief. Through moving stories of her encounters with grief over decades of supporting individuals, families, and communities—as well as her own experience with loss—Cacciatore opens a space to process, integrate, and deeply honor our grief.

 

Bios Urn Blog: Best Books About Grief, Death And Mortality

When Breath Becomes Air
By Paul Kalanithi

 

The Other Side of Sadness

By George A. Bonanno

In this thoroughly revised and updated classic, a renowned psychologist shows that mourning is far from predictable, and all of us share a surprising ability to be resilient.

The conventional view of grieving–encapsulated by the famous five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance–is defined by a mourning process that we can only hope to accept and endure.
In The Other Side of Sadness, psychologist and emotions expert George Bonanno argues otherwise. Our inborn emotions–anger and denial, but also relief and joy–help us deal effectively with loss. To expect or require only grief-stricken behavior from the bereaved does them harm. In fact, grieving goes beyond mere sadness, and it can actually deepen interpersonal connections and even lead to a new sense of meaning in life.

 

When Breath Becomes Air

By Paul Kalanithi

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live.

And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

 

Best Books On Grief and Death For Kids

 

I Miss YouA First Look at Death

By Pat Thomas

It’s often said that children are resilient and can bounce back from anything, but when death strikes, children are more intune that we often give them credit for. I MISS YOU is a very intimate portrait of how to help children deal with loss of a loved one. This is such a lightly worded, yet deeply introspective view of death and ways that a child can find to cope in positive ways.

The book explains how death is a natural part of life, including why people die, how people express grief in different ways, and provides suggestions on how to cope with the death of a loved one. The book also includes notes for parents and teachers.

 

The invisible string

By Patrice Karst

“That’s impossible,” said twins Jeremy & Liza after their Mom told them they’re all connected by this thing called an Invisible String. “What kind of string?” They asked with a puzzled look to which Mom replied, “An Invisible String made of love.” That’s where the story begins. A story that teaches of the tie that really binds.

A great book about loss, and understanding love when missing someone.

The Heart and the Bottle

By Oliver Jeffers

Award-winning picture book star Oliver Jeffers explores themes of love and loss in this life-affirming and uplifting tale.

Once there was a girl who was full of wonderment at how the world worked. She shared all her dreams and excitement with her father, who always had the answer to every question. That is until one day when his chair was empty, not to be filled again – how would the girl ever find meaning from her life again?

 

The Memory Tree

By Britta Teckentrup

A beautiful and heartfelt picture book to help children celebrate the memories left behind when a loved one dies.

Fox has lived a long and happy life in the forest, but now he is tired. He lies down in his favourite clearing, and falls asleep for ever. Before long, Fox’s friends begin to gather in the clearing. One by one, they tell stories of the special moments that they shared with Fox. And so, as they share their memories, a tree begins to grow, becoming bigger and stronger with each memory, sheltering and protecting all the animals in the forest, just as Fox did when he was alive.

This gentle story about the loss of a loved one is perfect for sharing and will bring comfort to both children and parents.

 

Bios Urn Blog: Best Books About Grief, Death And Mortality for kids

The Heart and the Bottle By Oliver Jeffers

 

What did you think of our compilation of best books on grief, death and mortality? You may have some feedback on one you have read or you have one to add to this list. We would love to hear from you in the Comments section below!

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