A book to help me get through the loss of my mother.
November 9, 2010 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm losing my mother. I'm looking for a book to help me deal with the pain.

My mother was diagnosed with cancer 4 years ago. She was only given a year to live, but she responded to the treatment better than expected and the time we thought we would never have has been a wonderful gift.

However, things lately have not gone as well. She's been through almost every type of treatment currently available, and they've stopped working. She's still fighting it, but every sign shows that we're coming to the end. The last month has seen her go down hill, and unless something comes up out of the blue, there's not much hope left. All that will be left is to wait.

My father died unexpectedly, and quickly. I had to deal with his death immediately. There was no waiting. That's the only type grief I've ever had to endure. But my mothers death will take more time, and be very tough, and I don't know how to handle it. She really is my best friend and losing her will be devastating to me.

I'm already feeling grief. Even doing simple things, or spending quality time with my mother when she's feeling well, has me on the verge of breaking down. I know there's nothing wrong with crying, but my mother doesn't need me breaking down constantly, and I want to enjoy what little time we have left rather than mourn what hasn't happened yet.

Therapy is not an option. I have family, and they're supportive, but they live in other parts of the country. I know grief is natural and healthy. I know I have to go through it. I accept that. I'm not trying to escape what is coming.

Right now reading (novels/self-help) are one of the only things keeping me sane. I was curious if anyone had a suggestion for something to read that might help me deal with what I'm going through. Something that I could take out during quiet times and take solace in.

I'm not religious (no bible please). I have been reading books on Buddhism lately and I find them very comforting. But I don't know if there are any books that deal more specifically with my situation. (The book doesn't have to be about Buddhism. It can be a novel, or poetry. Books on Buddhism is just one area that I have found comforting.)

I'm basically agnostic, but feel that some form of our energy lives on, or at least the good we do remains once we're gone, and my mother did a lot of good.

Again, I'm not trying to avoid grief. I know I have a lot coming my way. I'm hoping for a companion in the form of a book to help me through it. To help me make sense of this, so I can enjoy what's left of her last days.

Thanks for any help. I do appreciate it.
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (29 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Therapy is not an option.

I might as well be the first to say it: why not email an update to a moderator to explain why you think this is the case — cost? geographical location? cultural issues? Etcetera. Then, various Mefites will likely want to suggest ways in which it actually can be an option. If you just mean that you need help faster than therapy can usually provide, I definitely see that point, but would advise pursuing it at the same time as more immediate sources of solace.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 8:07 AM on November 9, 2010

Not to bury you in Buddhism, but this book really helped me cope with a death experience: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
posted by hermitosis at 8:09 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

C.S. Lewis - A Grief Observed
posted by Joe Beese at 8:23 AM on November 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

This may seem a little strange, but you could write your mother's eulogy. Garry Schaeffer is the author of A Labor of Love: How to Write a Eulogy. (For the record, I don't know him.) He walks the reader through the ways to put in words what another person's life has meant to us. He gives us examples of beautiful eulogies, poems for the grieving, and has a chapter on the healing power of words. There may be similar resources you could call on, as well.

Action may be more useful than just reading another book, however good it may be. Write what your mother's life has meant and will continue to mean to you. It may help you work through your grief as you write and rewrite it and also stand as a tribute others can share. You appear to be a good writer, but you could also use other artistic outlets to achieve the same purpose.
posted by bryon at 8:26 AM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

First, sorry to hear that you're going through this. You might find some comfort from Motherless Daughters.
posted by kaybdc at 8:43 AM on November 9, 2010

These are two that helped me a great deal: Heaven's Coast and Borrowed Time.

They are both about the AIDS epidemic, so not directly applicable to your mother, but they helped me a great deal with the loss of a friend a decade ago, and again when I lost my mother in law last year.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:46 AM on November 9, 2010

The Year of Magical Thinking comes to mind. As far as novels go, Gilead and Olive Kitteridge are several recommendations. Gilead does involve a preacher as the narrator, so you may or may not like that as much, but it's a lovely book.

As far as poetry, I'd recommend Anne Michaels and perhaps Anne Carson's Nox (though I have not yet read it), which is a meditation on grief at the loss of her brother. Adrienne Rich is also amazing, though I can't think of a specific collection of hers I'd recommend.
posted by questionsandanchors at 8:56 AM on November 9, 2010

Be warned that CS Lewis is religious/Christian. His books were recommended to me under similar circumstances and I found them infuriating and bizarre.

A dear friend recently gave me Shaun Tan's "The Red Tree". It is a short, visual book that really touched me. It is dark, but it is beautiful, easy to connect with and perhaps a nice breather or complement to the fiction and self-help stuff. I'd mail you my copy if I hadn't already given it away.

You have doubtless felt the crushing tides of grief come and go with each new diagnosis. I am a father's son in the same boat - some years behind you. For me, reading and labor go a long way toward calming that empty, gaping, horrible, premature grief.
posted by fake at 9:08 AM on November 9, 2010

This book may not specifically relate to your experience, but I think it's worth a read. It's got philosophy, personal stories, and plenty of wisdom from a man who has spent decades working with grief, loss and issues of mortality.
posted by Mrs.Spiffy at 9:16 AM on November 9, 2010

The idea of working on a eulogy is good: it will help you sort out what's been most important to you about your Mom, and maybe shape the conversations you have in the time ahead. Also, it's something you won't have to start from scratch when the time comes.

(Not to derail, fake, but Lewis converted to Catholicism, and often wrote about how he came to that decision. He was a thoughtful writer, and his self-reflection may be useful to others; speaking as a lifelong Catholic, he certainly made me reflect.)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:18 AM on November 9, 2010

I'm so sorry you're going through this. Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking, is her memoir of the year following her husband's death. It's a fantastic and much-lauded literary accomplishment and well worth reading.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:20 AM on November 9, 2010

Nancy Friday : motherless daughters.

Also, my mother, myself (to a lesser extent).

Big hugs to you, I can only imagine how hard this is.
posted by bilabial at 9:20 AM on November 9, 2010

Therapy may not be an option, but what about a support group, even an online version? Knowing that other people are experiencing feelings you can identify with can be very helpful.
posted by bunji at 9:48 AM on November 9, 2010

Not to derail, fake, but Lewis converted to Catholicism, and often wrote about how he came to that decision.

To be clear, Lewis converted to Anglicanism and never became a Roman Catholic.

posted by Jahaza at 10:07 AM on November 9, 2010

Have you come across Salon.com's Cary Tennis? For example, column about grief). There's a book collection of columns (which I just found out about), but they're all on line I think. The archive is here.
posted by Jahaza at 10:31 AM on November 9, 2010

I lost my mother in almost the same way (although her cancer was quite aggressive, and we had a shorter timespan together) - Motherless Daughters, mentioned above, was given to me by my older sister and it did give me some solace.

Although, only when i was ready for it. I tried to read it while still in the midst of the worst part of the grief, and it all seemed trite. So perhaps if it doesn't seem right for you (and this goes for any of the recs above) when you read it, give it another chance after some more time has passed.

(If you wanted to, Anon, you're welcome to memail me - I have no further book recommendations, but I am quite willing to be an understanding ear or pass on any things that helped me move past the grief healthily.)
posted by pseudonymph at 11:12 AM on November 9, 2010

Who Dies? by Stephen Levine. I feel very fortunate that I crossed paths with this book early in my life.
posted by Danf at 11:20 AM on November 9, 2010

Hospice can help you a lot. Their staff and volunteers have all the right training and experience to deal with these issues with a minimum of stress.

My mother died after a long decline. We had a wonderful, close relationship, and all my life I had feared her death. When it came, I was gobsmacked to find that: it was OK. It was fine. It was peaceful and even beautiful. (Also of course, scary and sad and hard, but I expected that part.)

Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping is a beautiful, absorbing novel that was very comforting to me.

Andrew Boyd's Daily Afflictions is Buddhist-y, small and sharp.
posted by Corvid at 11:23 AM on November 9, 2010

Jane Brook's Midlife Orphan was very comforting to me after my father's death.
posted by space_cookie at 12:16 PM on November 9, 2010

I highly recommend Gail Caldwell's recent memoir about her friendship with Carolyn Knapp, and then subsequently losing her to cancer. It's called Let's Take the Long Way Home and it is short, quiet and fierce. It's beautiful.

I also recommend The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
posted by bethazon at 12:48 PM on November 9, 2010

Not a book, but probably the best short form writing on grief I've found online is from Meghan O'Rourke at Slate. I read it after the loss of my mother, and found it helpful that someone had eloquently expressed what I felt at the time - slightly different than what you need at this point, but incredibly helpful to me. Also don't discount the idea of non-book related resources either now or in the future - I attended a Kara support group, and any other kind of group can be helpful. You're in my thoughts - drop me a line if you need an ear or shoulder.
posted by rmm at 12:59 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Elisabeth Kubler Ross
posted by notned at 2:24 PM on November 9, 2010

Her books are from her Christian point of view, but she is almost more humanist than what you would expect. Anne Lamott would be someone who you may want to check out.

I am far from Christian, but I have found her writings on her faith to be very comforting and funny and real. She has also written about overcoming her grief from the death of her father.

I'm so sorry about your loss. I hope you are able to find the peace you need.
posted by bibliogrrl at 3:41 PM on November 9, 2010

Oh boy. This question comes on the 1-year anniversary of my mother's death (from cancer). I have to say that pretty much anything by Maya Angelou brought comfort to me - especially her collected poems. She tends to write about strength in women and cuts right through a lot of "flowery" stuff and gets straight to the heart with poignant reflections. All of the other "grief" books I received just irritated me. I guess when push came to shove, I didn't want help with the grieving process but instead wanted ways to celebrate my mom's life and what she meant to me and needed outlets to help me with that. So, poetry and music from strong women (Nina Simone for music) just made me feel that I could get through the process that was before me.

Now for some unsolicited comments. I, too, thought that I shouldn't "break down" in front of my mother and was forever trying to be positive (but realistic) and didn't want to dwell on the impending truth that was before us both. I'll never forget that after one of her doctor visits, she just stood in the kitchen and as I was trying to babble on about something to keep her mind off of things, she just looked at me and quietly said, "I need a hug." ... and so I hugged her and all of the bottled up pain, fear and reality of what she was going through came out from both of us and it was the one and only time I think we truly cried and let our guards down 100% with each other. It was cathartic and so please, please ... feel that you can let your guard down with your mother and let her see your raw emotions, because chances are, she's wanting to do the same.

My thoughts are with you and your family and I truly wish you the best during this extremely difficult time.
posted by cyniczny at 4:19 PM on November 9, 2010

In the Midst of Winter is a collection of essays, excerpts and poetry dealing with grief. I find it enormously helpful still, almost 14 years after the death of my mother.

The first poem is "For Margaret" by Stanley Moss.
It starts like this:

My mother near her death
is white as a downy feather.
I used to think her death was as distant
as a tropical bird,
a giant macaw, whatever that is--
a thing I have as little to do with
as the distant poor.
I find a single feather of her suffering,
I blow it as gently as she blew
into my neck and ear.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:55 PM on November 9, 2010

I finished The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton a few weeks ago. As a mom myself I felt knifed when the mothers in the story were separated from their children. But the end was the best release of happy anguish I've had in a long time.
posted by mdiskin at 6:23 PM on November 9, 2010

I was in a similar situation to yours and have similar preferences. The first time we expected my mom to die, a friend gave me a copy of Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart. I didn't make time to read it. A year later, when we found out she really only had a few months to live, another friend gave me another copy of the same book. I finally read it and found it the most helpful reading of the whole grief experience. Plus, it's short and you can read it in small chunks, which is helpful if you're busy helping care for your mother. I will return to this book again and again and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Also, in case it helps you, I discovered there are Motherless Daughters meetup groups in many cities (based on the book mentioned upthread).

I wish you strength and peace.
posted by TrixieRamble at 7:38 PM on November 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

You'll Get Over It by Virginia Ironside helped me a lot when my father died. I don;t know how close you are to your mother but it is also useful if your relationship with the one you lose is less than straightforward.

If you're after a light read, Getting Over It by Anna Maxted is a novel about a woman who loses her father.
posted by mippy at 5:51 AM on November 10, 2010

I am still grieving the loss of my mom this past July. Believe it or not, I found "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" to be incredibly helpful, as a fictional option.
posted by dwbrant at 1:54 PM on November 11, 2010

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