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Human beings are amazing; we can learn from almost any situation, including the experience of grief. Yes, of course, grieving is hard on us; it can drive us to our knees and leave us unable to cope. But, scientists and grief experts tell us there's a benefit to grieving: without doubt, it can make us stronger and more resilient.
This recommended reading list features books on resilience to help you understand the power for positive change found within the grief experience. All book descriptions come from Amazon or Barnes and Noble; each specific source is noted. For more information on any of these recommended books, click on the title.
What Doesn't Kill Us: The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth
Stephen Joseph, Ph.D.
"For the past twenty years, pioneering psychologist Stephen Joseph has worked with survivors of trauma. His studies have yielded a startling discovery: that a wide range of traumatic events—from illness, divorce, separation, assault, and bereavement to accidents, natural disasters, and terrorism—can act as catalysts for positive change. Boldly challenging the conventional wisdom about trauma and its aftermath, Joseph demonstrates that rather than ruining one’s life, a traumatic event can actually improve it. Drawing on the wisdom of ancient philosophers, the insights of evolutionary biologists, and the optimism of positive psychologists, What Doesn’t Kill Us reveals how all of us can navigate change and adversity— traumatic or otherwise—to find new meaning, purpose, and direction in life." (Amazon)
Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being
Linda Graham MFT and Rick Hanson
"Resilience is the ability to face and handle life’s challenges, whether everyday disappointments or extraordinary disasters. While resilience is innate in the brain, over time we learn unhelpful patterns, which then become fixed in our neural circuitry. But science is now revealing that what previously seemed hardwired can be rewired, and Bouncing Back shows us how. With powerful, time-tested exercises, Linda Graham guides us in rebuilding our core well-being and disaster-proofing our brains. This book won the 2013 Books for a Better Life Acorda Wellness Award and the 2014 Silver Nautilus Book Award." (Barnes and Noble)
Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges
Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney
"This inspiring book identifies ten key ways to weather and bounce back from stress and trauma. Incorporating the latest scientific research and dozens of interviews with trauma survivors, it provides a practical guide to building emotional, mental and physical resilience. Written by experts in post-traumatic stress, this book provides a vital and successful roadmap for overcoming the adversities we all face at some point in our lives." (Amazon)
The Resilience Factor: Seven Essential Skills for Overcoming Life's Inevitable Obstacles
Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté
"Resilience is a crucial ingredient–perhaps the crucial ingredient–to a happy, healthy life. More than anything else, it's what determines how high we rise above what threatens to wear us down, from battling an illness, to bolstering a marriage, to carrying on after a national crisis. Everyone needs resilience, and now two expert psychologists share seven proven techniques for enhancing our capacity to weather even the cruelest setbacks. Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté are seasoned resilience coaches and, through practical methods and vivid anecdotes, they prove that resilience is not just an ability that we're born with and need to survive, but a skill that anyone can learn and improve in order to thrive." (Barnes and Noble)
"Resiliency - the ability to adapt to life's changes and crises - is the key to a healthy, productive life. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to get bogged down by feelings of anger and helplessness. The Resiliency Advantage helps readers banish negative, self-defeating thoughts and break free from the roles of 'victim' and 'good child' while improving problem-solving skills, maintaining humor and optimism during rough times, and becoming both self-reliant and socially responsible. By mastering the five stages of development - sustaining health, energy, and positive feelings; handling challenges; achieving positive self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-concept; honing the skills and attributes of highly resilient people; and developing a talent for serendipity–readers learn to stand up to adversity, overcome obstacles, and meet life head on." (Amazon)
"In under a year and a half, Jill Smolowe lost her husband, her mother-in-law, her sister, and her mother. Here she mostly focuses on husband Joe's diagnosis of cancer, his progress through chemotherapy and remission, and his eventual death. In the process of telling her story of love and loss, she reflects on grief—our narratives about grief, our responses to it, and how we recover. Smolowe cites the work of psychologist George Bonanno extensively, and, in sharing her story, offers thoughtful and compassionate guidance for people going through the grieving process with loved ones. Her story is heartbreaking and heartwarming, incisively written and extremely clear. Readers will find themselves sympathetic and eager to hear how Smolowe coped with her losses and how she negotiated societal expectations of grief with grace and dignity. This is an absolute must-read for people struggling with loss." (Barnes and Noble)
Developing Resilience: A Cognitive-Behavioural Approach
"Some individuals emerge from grim experiences stronger in mind and spirit than others who suffered the same fate. In this book, Michael Neenan suggests that it is the meanings that we attach to events, and not the events themselves, that determine our reactions to them; this is why different people can react to the same event in a variety of ways. Developing Resilience shows how people can find constructive ways of dealing with their difficulties by using the techniques of cognitive behaviour therapy as well as listening to the wisdom of those who have prevailed over adversity. This book provides useful guidance and advice on topics including: managing negative emotions, distinguishing between what is within and outside of your control, learning from past experiences, developing self-belief, increasing your level of frustration tolerance, and maintaining a resilient outlook. This book will be essential for anyone trying to find constructive ways forward in difficult times, as well as counsellors, coaches and therapists looking for guidance in helping their clients." (Amazon)
The Truth about Grief: The Myth of Its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss
Ruth Davis Konigsberg
"The five stages of grief are so deeply imbedded in our culture that no American can escape them. But the stunning fact is that there is no validity to the stages that were proposed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross more than forty years ago. In The Truth about Grief, Ruth Davis Konigsberg shows how the five stages were based on no science but nonetheless became national myth. She explains that current research paints a completely different picture of how we actually grieve. It turns out people are pretty well programmed to get over loss. Grieving should not be a strictly regimented process, she argues; nor is the best remedy for pain always to examine it or express it at great length. The strength of Konigsberg’s message is its liberating force: there is no manual to grieving; you can do it freestyle." (Barnes and Noble)
"This one-of-a-kind resource shows you exactly how to bounce back from stress, crises, and all life adversity based on decades of social science research on human resiliency. Nan Henderson has been teaching people around the world how to be resilient for more than 20 years. She believes every person has innate resilience and this book shows you how to tap into it now." (Amazon)
We tend to understand grief as a predictable five-stage process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But in The Other Side of Sadness, George Bonanno shows that our conventional model discounts our capacity for resilience. In fact, he reveals that we are already hardwired to deal with our losses efficiently—not by graduating through static phases. Combining personal anecdotes and original research, The Other Side of Sadness is a must-read for those going through the death of a loved one, mental health professionals, and readers interested in neuroscience and positive psychology." (Amazon)
The Grief Recovery Handbook, 20th Anniversary Expanded Edition
John James and Russell Friedman
"Incomplete recovery from grief can have a lifelong negative effect on the capacity for happiness. Drawing from their own histories as well as from others', the authors illustrate how it is possible to recover from grief and regain energy and spontaneity. Based on a proven program, The Grief Recovery Handbook offers grievers the specific actions needed to move beyond loss. New material in this edition includes guidance for dealing with: loss of faith, loss of career and financial issues, loss of health, and growing up in an alcoholic or dysfunctional home." (Barnes and Noble)
A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss
Jerry L. Sittser
"Loss came suddenly for Jerry Sittser. In an instant, a tragic car accident claimed three generations of his family: his mother, his wife, and his young daughter. While most of us will not experience such a catastrophic loss in our lifetime, all of us will taste it. And we can, if we choose, know as well the grace that transforms it. A Grace Disguised plumbs the depths of sorrow, whether due to illness, divorce, or the loss of someone we love. The circumstances are not important; what we do with those circumstances is. In coming to the end of ourselves, we can come to the beginning of a new life—one marked by spiritual depth, joy, compassion, and a deeper appreciation of simple blessings." (Amazon)
Healing after Loss: Daily Meditations
Martha Whitmore Hickman
"For those recovering from the death of a loved one, here is a collection of daily affirmations and meditations to ease the grieving process and pave the way for healing to begin. (Ms. Hickman) is the author of more than twenty books for adults and children. Among her adult titles are The Growing Season, Fullness of Time, and I Will Not Leave You Desolate." (Barnes and Noble)
A New Normal: Learning to Live with Grief and Loss
Darlene F. Cross MS, MFT
"Everyone experiences loss. The pain of loss—whether it is the loss of a friend or loved one, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, or the loss of youth or health—can bring disabling feelings of helplessness, despair, numbness, and disorientation to almost anyone. A New Normal invites you behind the closed doors of private counseling, where grief and loss have long been the focus of healing. Whether you or a loved one are dealing with loss through death, loss of a relationship, loss of a job, or the loss of youth or health, this book offers understanding and hope. Here is a clear, proven road map to life after loss, the road to each reader's own New Normal." (Amazon)
I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One
Brook Noel and Pamela Blair, PhD
"Each year about eight million Americans suffer the death of someone close to them. Now for those who face the challenges of sudden death, there is a hand to hold. Written by two women who have experienced sudden loss, this updated edition of the best-selling bereavement classic will touch, comfort, uplift and console. Authors Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D., offer a comforting hand to hold for those who are grieving the sudden death of a loved one." (Barnes and Noble)
Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing after Loss
"If you are going to buy only one book on grief, this is the one to get! It will validate your grief experience, and you can share it with your children. You can leave it on the coffee table so others will pick it up, read it, and then better appreciate your grieving time. Grand's Cooking Tips section at the back of the book is rich with wisdom and concrete recommendations." (Amazon)
Getting to the Other Side of Grief: Overcoming the Loss of a Spouse
Susan J. Zonnebelt-Smeenge, and Robert C. De Vries
"The authors, a clinical psychologist and a pastor and professor, offer comfort and guidance to those mourning their spouse's death. Both suffered the loss of a spouse at a relatively young age, and their empathy, combined with psychological insights, biblical observations, and male and female perspectives, help readers experience grief in the healthiest, most complete way." (Barnes and Noble)
About Grief: Insights, Setbacks, Grace Notes, Taboos
Ron Marasco and Brian Shuff
"About Grief is a refreshingly down-to-earth book about an issue that blindsides many people. Written in a warm and conversational way that is, at times, deeply moving, at times, surprisingly amusing, and always practical, it covers a wide range of issues facing people in grief. As one reader recently said, "Reading this book is like having a smart, entertaining friend around—at a time when you really need one." (Amazon)
Creative Grieving: A Hip Chick's Path from Loss to Hope
"Within a 20-month period, Elizabeth Berrien endured the loss of her stillborn son and the subsequent death of her husband on active duty in Afghanistan. She found herself a 27-year-old widow whose life had been shattered. In this book, she shares the experiences, the wisdom, and even the joy she gathered on her journey from grief to hope. Creative Grieving offers support and encouragement while acknowledging that there is no 'right' way to grieve. Elizabeth tells you about the emotions she experienced while grieving in an 'instant gratification' society, the importance of self-nurturing, the balancing of grief and motherhood, the redefining of community and relationships, and the discovery of new passion and meaning." (Barnes and Noble)
If you're setting out to learn what you can about grief and grieving, we can suggest additional online sources for recommended books on grief, including the Goodreads list, "Best Books about Grief and Grieving"; and of course, Meghan O'Rourke's very personal perspective, "A Reading List for Grievers", published online by The New Yorker in 2010, and The Guardian article, "Helen Humphreys' Top 10 Books on Grieving". (All are listed in the Online Sources and Resources section below.)
We know grief can be very isolating; sometimes it seems as if no one understands, and we shy away from speaking to others about our bereavement experience. Fortunately, there are many online resources intended to help grievers renew their enthusiasm for living, including this list of recommended books about resilience and grief. You may also want to review our list of recommended books about grief as well as the other articles in our online grief library.
Should you continue to feel the need for grief support, please call us at (516) 223-3516. We are always here, and would be privileged to help you in dealing with grief.
O'Rourke, Meghan, "A Reading List for the Grieving", The New Yorker, 2010.
Humphreys, Helen, "Helen Humphreys' Top 10 Books on Grieving", The Guardian, April, 2013.
Goodreads, "Best Books about Grief and Grieving", 2014.