Book Review: Living When a Loved One Has Died

A local funeral home went out of business recently. They’d had a mini death library of books about grieving and death at the funeral home and since they went out of business they donated the books to our library used book sale.

Our library had the used book sale.

I now have a mini death library.

One of those books is “Living When a Loved One Has Died” by Earl A. Grollman. I had heard of the book before, and if a book about death and grieving can be considered “pop culture,” I might venture to say this one has that status. It was first published in 1977 and seems to be a staple in libraries, at least when I look. (Whenever I visit a library, I evaluate two sections in non-fiction: sex and death. I know. Please, don’t stop reading.)

But unlike sex books from the 1970’s that I want to scream why is this still on the shelf, I’ll now be happy when I find this book on grieving, because it is fantastic.

The book is short and each page is very concise. There are no more than a few sentences on each page and they are spaced out leaving a lot of white space. Think like opening a book of poetry.

But just because the book is concise doesn’t mean it is light on meaning or impact. This book artfully brings so much philosophy, comfort, psychology, and empowerment in few, well-chosen words.

There are four sections: Shock, Suffering, Recovery, and A new life. There are simple black and white photos sprinkled throughout the text that add visual pacing without being distracting.

Now, I’m not grieving at the moment and I could have read this whole book very quickly. And though I did read it in a day, there was nothing about the prose that made me rush through. Each word was weighted and commanded my thought. The narration literally guided my pace. Deep breathe, deep breathe. I think that someone wading through the fog of grief would be helped by this purposeful guidance in the text. The book starts at the bottom and slowly guides the reader through, without (in my opinion) becoming overwhelming.

If you just open to a random page, you might think the book will be too harsh for a grieving person. Because the author does not shy away from confronting some of the deeper, more gritty aspects of grief. But those conversations are necessary, and when placed in the context of the overall journey the book takes the reader on, I believe these confrontations of darker aspects of grief are effective for working through them.

I’m glad I found this book now. Some parts made my heart hurt to read, knowing that I could be feeling these things when I do lose someone close to me. But I am grateful that I discovered a tool that I know can be there for me to use when I need it. Thus, I wanted to share it with you, today, so you or someone you know might consider using this book as well.

Here is a link to the book on Amazon.

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