Reading Through Grief

Surviving the Death of a SiblingI’ve always said and thought that I can read anytime, anywhere. Traveling? Of course, that’s a perfect time to get some big chunks of reading done (or listen to audio books if I’m the one driving). Family get-togethers? Perhaps it’s sad to admit it, but yes, I usually bring a book, and can sometimes be found curled up in a corner reading a chapter or two (or seven). I figure if others can disappear into another room to watch football or a movie, I can read a book.

I even read while in labor, which apparently was an unusual thing to do, based on the reaction of my doula and nurses. All that is to say that it is very, very rare for me to go any length of time without reading.

Until recently.

See, as I already mentioned in my December Recap post, my brother died shortly before Christmas. He had leukemia, so it wasn’t a complete surprise, but he died a little less than six months after diagnosis, so the speed of the cancer’s toll on his body surprised me. In addition, I’d seen him only two weeks before, and while he was clearly sick, he didn’t at all appear to be basically days away from death. At the end, things moved very very quickly.

All of that is a very convoluted and sad way to say that recent events have proven to me that I can’t always read anywhere, at any time. I’ve regularly struggled to feel engaged by what I’m reading – is it the books I’ve selected? Or is it just me? I’ve zoned out in front of the TV way more than I ever do. I’ve sat in a daze, staring at nothing.

It hasn’t helped matters that, and this is no joke, the very first book I picked up after my brother’s death? It included the death of the protagonist’s brother. One of the very next books I read (or tried to read)? It also included the death of the protagonist’s brother. Seriously?? I don’t think I’ve read a book all year – certainly not since learning my brother’s diagnosis in late June – where a main character’s brother dies, and immediately after my brother dies I end up reading two of them?

Emotional Reading / Reading through Grief and Grieving: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical ReadingDoing some searching for books on grief and reading led me to the book Surviving the Death of a Sibling, which I’ve just gotten from the library and have managed to read the first chapter, crying my way through it. It also lead me to the very intriguing Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical ReadingEmotional Reading / Reading through Grief and Grieving: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading. I just got it from the library last week and finally started reading it over the weekend. The premise is that the author read a book a day (and posted a review each day) as a way to come to terms with her grief over the loss of her older sister to cancer. Hmmm, wonder why on earth I’m so eager to read it…

It’s got me wondering, have there been times that you haven’t been able to read? Or that you’ve had to avoid certain types of books? I’m doing my best to avoid any books filled with grief or heartbreak right now; I’ve got plenty of that in the real world.

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  1. I used to work at a restoration home for survivors of trafficking, and since then I find it very difficult to read anything that touches on abuse of women, be it emotional, verbal or physical. Every time that is mentioned (even in novels), my heart breaks for the women I know who’ve seen far worse in real life. It’s something I’m praying for, that God would heal and not only that – that He would turn it into compassion that understands and blesses.
    Sorry to hear about your loss. May God strengthen and comfort you.

    • That would be such a hard thing to read about after you’ve put names & faces to real people who’ve gone through it. I’ll be praying for you as well.

  2. I’ve had to avoid certain books due to fears that I have… for instance, some biographies of military heroes that hit a little too close to home. Some WWII novels that play off my fears of war. I’ve had to learn just to be more cautious about what I choose to read in those areas. If I get that niggling feeling when I pick it up, I simply avoid it. There’s plenty of other books to choose from! 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this, Sheila. I have thought about you and this often and continue to keep you and your family in my prayers. I didn’t realize it happened so quickly. Either way, I’m thinking of you guys.

    This actually reminded me of a post at my old blog a few years ago…I went the opposite extreme. In the middle of grief, ALL I could do was read, as if it was the best escape possible from the world. Even when it was non-fiction and a book that spoke directly to my circumstances, I found that I just had to read and couldn’t stop. I guess that reminds me of the different ways that people grieve…which I need to remember because on the inside of the grief, I tend to feel frustrated toward those who don’t “get me”…and yet, some of it is possibly a different in the way that person and I respond to grief. Not always, but sometimes. A good reminder for me today.

    • Thanks for your prayers.

      I kind of wonder if circumstances had been different, if I would have escaped into books and not come up for air until weeks had passed. That’s how I’ve always dealt with things before, but I couldn’t do it this time with family responsibilities that demanded to be addressed. And maybe that’s a good thing too, because it kept me from isolating myself and holing up for months on end as I tried to read away the grief.

  4. The only time I went through an extended time without reading was during my mother’s surgery and chemo/radiation treatments. My lack of reading was probably due to exhaustion from being a caretaker and worry-wort! My love to you as you continue to grieve the loss of your brother.

    • Exhaustion is typically the main reason I ever skip reading for any length of time, so your experiences with your mom are so understandable. I wish I’d been able to be more support to you then, but I’m so happy that your mom is doing so well now.

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