A reading list for mother’s day if your mother is dead
These are the things that help me feel human when I feel wobbly with grief.
For my newsletter this month, I wrote about the complexity of mother’s day as a motherless daughter. I wanted to share some of the best resources I’ve found for dealing with grief. I have a broad definition of ‘resources’ - articles, books, poetry, podcasts, music, videos etc. In essence, they are the things that help me feel human when I feel wobbly with grief. Some are specific to the loss of a mother, most are not. I hope you’ll find them useful.
Dead mom essays:
There are a whole series of Dead Mom Essays. I’ll write one myself someday. For now, I recommend:
“The first time I cheated on my husband, my mother had been dead for exactly one week.” The Love of my Life by Cheryl Strayed
“A year later, my diary reads, “Hardest thing: overhearing colleagues tell their mothers ‘Love you’ on the phone. So casually.” The Unmothered by Ruth Margalit
“People who weren't there like to say that my mother died at home surrounded by loving family. This is technically true, though it was just my brother and me and he was looking at Facebook and I was reading a profile of Hillary Clinton in the December 2009 issue of Vogue” Matricide by Meghan Daum (Excerpted from her great book, The Unspeakable.)
“I still can’t draw a line between where her voice is speaking to me, and where I learn to speak.” My Mother is Gone, But Her Edits Remain by Blair Hurley
“We were out running errands last week, and three days later, she was dead!” This is a Dead Mom Essay, by Maddie.
Laura Kennedy’s Leave Taking series on her mother’s diagnosis and death.
Articles about grief:
“One morning in early June 2004, I peeked into the room where my 23-year-old daughter, Kate, was still curled up in the white wrought-iron bed she had slept in as a child. I paused for a moment and gazed at her lovely face, framed by wild, curly hair that spread out like seaweed across the pillow. Standing there, I said to myself, as I sometimes did, I could not draw another breath if anything happened to this child.” I read this 5 years ago, and it’s still with me. Dear Kate, by Nancy Comisky
“Since then, the days have darkened, and I, too, have been lost: adrift, disoriented, absent. Or perhaps it would be more apt to say that I have been at a loss—a strange turn of phrase, as if loss were a place in the physical world, a kind of reverse oasis or Bermuda Triangle where the spirit fails and the compass needle spins.” When Things Go Missing by Kathryn Schultz
“I still have days where I lie on the floor and miss him so terribly that I keep repeating, "I want you to come home." It does not happen as frequently as in year one or year two but it slays me just the same.” The Widowhood effect by Christina Fragou.
“I spent the morning on myspace looking at pictures of my dead ex-boyfriend. The phrase my dead ex-boyfriend is syntactically ambiguous you can’t tell from it whether this boyfriend and I were together when he died. We were not. We’d been broken up for about two years. We were together for three then apart for two then he died. He died in a car crash that’s how he died.” I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins
“He didn’t feel any pain. He died instantly. That was how my mother told me that my father was dead.” Before You Know It, Something’s Over by Riese.
“In that first year following the loss of our child and the end of our marriage, I found myself in a state of calm determination–solitary–in an eye-of-the-hurricane place.” If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going by Michelle Mirsky.
Things You Only Know When Both Your Parents Are Dead - this manages to be both funny and devastating.
“I’m busy living my life, despite walking around with a sinkhole inside me. I look at the people on the street and wonder how many of them have sinkholes inside them, too.” Is Eight Years Too Long To Still Be Grieving? by Emma Tessler. (No is my answer.)
Other things I recommend:
Stepmom, especially this scene.
This Seamus Heaney poem.
This song by Sinead O Connor
Nuala O’Faolain’s interview with Marian Finucane (MP3). (This interview with a Joan Halifax, midwife to the dying, would make a powerful companion piece.)
Listen to Anne Helen Petersen talk about her first boyfriend’s death in the Iraq war.
This episode of Death, Sex and Money.
Nora Ephron wrote lists of what she would and wouldn’t miss after she died.
Modern Loss has a great collection of pieces on loss, grief and the many intricate ways it impacts your life.
Books about grief:
I’ve read a lot of books about grief. I recommend the following:
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanathi
The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Grief is a Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman (I didn’t read the whole book but the first chunk of it was comforting to my newly bereaved self)
Supporting people through grief:
I read someplace that the bereaved tend to loose a huge portion (up to 75%, according to this piece) of their support base. That was certainly true for me. If you want to stick around and support someone through grief, I recommend these pieces:
How to write a condolence note (As aside: After my mother died, I remember opening a mass card with €50 in it. I was so shocked and relieved. I think we used that money to buy a cylinder of gas. Because that’s what we needed, and we had no money. This is all to say that it’s worthwhile to send a note.)
And most important of all, the art of presence.
I love how these pieces share actionable tips for supporting people through grief. Sometimes you just need these complex emotional questions to be condensed into a ‘how to’ format.
If you want to laugh after all that, might I suggest these gifs? #8 is my favourite.