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National Grief Awareness Week: Books that can help process loss

National Grief Awareness Week – 2 to 8 December – aims to normalise grief and encourages people to talk about this often uncomfortable subject. 

Andy Langford, clinical director at Cruse Bereavement Care said: “Talking about your grief can be incredibly difficult. However when we do talk, and to those we trust, it can be one of the most effective ways of supporting yourself when you are bereaved – and feel like a huge relief.”

The theme of this year’s event recognises that during Covid-19, many people are grieving at home and are unable to reach out to friends, family and loved ones for much-need human contact. 

As such people are urged to use the hashtag #ShareYourStory and document their experiences because “distance shouldn’t mean we can’t share our grief”.  

When faced with bereavement, Langford says “grief can affect people physically as well as emotionally”. Many people find that words often fail to explain their emotions and physical aches compress the chest. 

Of course no single set of prose or even a thousand tomes will ever be able to provide soothe these feelings completely, provide the answers or solve the problems. 

But as never-ending as the process of mourning may be, when going through a difficult time, books can provide solace and words of comfort. Grieving can be a lonely experience, but being privy to another’s suffering can give a sense of company.

In honour of National Grief Awareness Week, we’ve selected the books for both adults and children that may just help you better understand the grieving process. But of course remember, it’s ok to not be ok.  

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘Sad Book’ by Michael Rosen, published by Walker Books Ltd

Illustrated by Quentin Blake, Sad Book chronicles Rosen’s own grief following the death of his son Eddie at the age of 19. With emotional elegance and nuance, he welcomes and unpicks each layer of mourning and explains why it’s ok to be sad. A painful, yet surprisingly uplifting read that’s suitable for both children and adults. 

‘Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy’ by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, published by WH Allen

After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandverg, COO of Facebook, felt certain that she and her children would never find joy again. Just weeks later, she was talking with Adam Grant, friend and psychologist, who told her that there are concrete steps people can take to recover.  

Through weaving Sandberg’s personal experiences and emotions with Grant’s scientific findings, Option B provides a compelling insight into dealing with hardships and helping others in times of crisis when Option A disappears. 

‘The Invisible String’ by Patrick Karst, published by Little, Brown Books

This heart-warming picture book delves into the questions about the intangible yet unbreakable connection many of us form with our loved ones after a mother tells her two children that they're all connected by an invisible string. By exploring themes of loneliness, separation and loss, it helps to open up deeper conversations about love and grief. There is also an accompanying workbook (Amazon, £8.72) which contains more than 50 activities, both written and drawn, with the aim of helping children through feelings of separation or loss. 

‘Thinking Out Loud: Love, Grief and Being Mum and Dad’ by Rio Ferdinand, published by Hodder & Stoughton

Following the tragic death of his wife and soulmate Rebecca to breast cancer, Thinking Out Loud documents Ferdinand’s raw grief as he navigates domesticity and caring for his three young children. Tackling loss with sheer honesty, it’s a tender account that aims to change the way men mourn and express their feelings. 

‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness, published by Walker Books Ltd

Inspired by an idea from the late writer Siobhan Dowd, A Monster Calls is a dark fairy tale about a 12-year-old boy called Conor whose mother is terminally ill. Conor has the same dream of a monster every night following his mother’s diagnosis, symbolising his struggle to cope. Drawing on themes of love, loss and hope, teenagers will hopefully find the rage and raw pain within the pages resonates with them. 

‘A Grief Observed’ by C.S. Lewis, published by Faber & Faber

Considered a classic and an invaluable read for many, this book is split into four parts – journals written by Lewis while he processed the death of his wife to cancer. As he details his paralysing grief and sheer sense of loss, his reflections are equal parts profound and moving. 

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