Memoirs and philosophical works on death, loss
July 14, 2015 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Please recommended memoirs, philosophy, and/or classics on coping with death, the meaning of life, etc.

I lost a cherished friend last week. She died unexpectedly. Today, I return to my 'normal' life after attending her memorial service on Sunday, and I'm struggling. I want to read books about grieving so I can point at a passage and say "Yes, this is exactly what I'm feeling" to myself. I know that I'm not alone in my grief (she was pretty much universally beloved by everyone), but I feel alone because I don't have the words for how wrecked I feel.

I'm also looking for philosophical works that tackle what what it means to be human, the meaning of life, our purpose here, etc. That might be too broad of a category - but I want to know what the great thinkers believe so that I can start thinking too of what my purpose is and start forming idea of what I should do with my rest of my life.

I'm looking for something closer to A Grief Observed and The Year of Magical Thinking than On Death and Dying. Please, no self-help books. (I have read the recommendations in this thread, but I thought I'd ask this anyways since something new might have been published in the eight years between our two questions.)
posted by pumpkinlatte to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: http://www.amazon.com/The-Fall-Freddie-Leaf-Story/dp/0943432898
posted by Sassyfras at 8:08 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I enjoyed Julian Barnes's Nothing to Be Frightened Of when I was reading a lot in this vein, though it is only partially about death (and otherwise about literature and memory and aging).
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:09 AM on July 14, 2015


The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen. I recommended it in that thread, and I will never not recommend it in context like this (unless the asker says "not that Matthiessen book again for gods sake").

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by rtha at 8:16 AM on July 14, 2015


Man's Search for Meaning
posted by sperose at 8:34 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thich Nhat Hanh's The Heart of The Buddha's Teaching has gotten me through a lot of hard times. You don't need to be a Buddhist to appreciate it.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:38 AM on July 14, 2015


Also, the title is terrible, but Harold Kushner's When Bad Things Happen to Good People.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:41 AM on July 14, 2015


Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion
Found this in a used bookstore and it has captivated me ever since.

"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are."


And I am very sorry for your loss.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:44 AM on July 14, 2015


Also I found this book is very striking: The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker

However given the circumstances, I would go with Joseph Campbell first and pick this one up a few months from now.

Hugs.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:45 AM on July 14, 2015


I'm also looking for philosophical works that tackle what what it means to be human, the meaning of life, our purpose here, etc. That might be too broad of a category - but I want to know what the great thinkers believe so that I can start thinking too of what my purpose is and start forming idea of what I should do with my rest of my life.

For this, I can only recommend Plato's Apology.
posted by General Malaise at 8:53 AM on July 14, 2015


The Death of Ivan Ilych is often assigned to philosophy students and medical students for similar reasons to yours.

And yes, Plato's Apology becomes profoundly comforting after you read it a dozen times or so.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:04 AM on July 14, 2015


I am sorry for your loss. Michael Rosen's Sad Book, about losing his son, looks like a children's book but it's not. It's a beautifully illustrated book about loss and sadness.
posted by billiebee at 9:20 AM on July 14, 2015


Paul Auster's The Invention of Solitude
posted by tackypink at 9:33 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy addresses many of the vicissitudes of life.

Sorry for your loss.
posted by CincyBlues at 10:42 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Ditto the Kushner, including the title.

If you don't mind some of the Christian overtones (it's not too bad), Anne Lamott's Travelling Mercies has some sections where she talks about losing her best friend to breast cancer. I think it's that one.

So sorry for your loss.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:56 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whoops, sorry, missed that you found one of those.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:57 AM on July 14, 2015


I don't know if this will be the right angle, but I recently read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty. She comes at it from with humor, and the deeper processing about death happens primarily in the later chapters. She's looking at death and dying from the perspective of inside the funeral industry and the commercialization of death rites.

If the book isn't quite right, her group, the Order of the Good Death, might be worth a look. From the site: "The Order of the Good Death is a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality."
posted by carrioncomfort at 11:05 AM on July 14, 2015


Family member who has lost a child recommends H is for Hawk. It a powerful memoir of a woman grieving her father.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:52 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really appreciated Paula, by Isabel Allende.
posted by bendy at 4:28 PM on July 14, 2015


I recently read this article in the New Yorker, about the poet Edward Hirsch and the loss of his son. Then I read the book-length poem which this article refers to, called Gabriel. Both are beautiful and saturated with grief. But the poem is also a celebration of his son. Really moving.
posted by swheatie at 7:02 PM on July 14, 2015


Philosopher here. Philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff lost a son and wrote a book about it, Lament For a Son.

I've taught a class on death and the meaning of life before. I thought this reader was terrific.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:48 AM on July 15, 2015


Advice on Dying: And Living a Better Life by the Dalai Lama may work.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 4:52 AM on July 15, 2015


Thank you all for your thoughtful answers. I will pickup all of your suggestions after finishing A Grief Observed and The Year of Magical Thinking.
posted by pumpkinlatte at 6:47 AM on July 16, 2015


Blue Nights by Joan Didion, 2nding The Year of Magical Thinking
posted by zdravo at 4:00 PM on August 31, 2015


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