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Aesthetics in Grief and Mourning
Philosophical Reflections on Coping with Loss
Kathleen Marie Higgins
University of Chicago Press, 2024
A philosophical exploration of aesthetic experience during bereavement.

In Aesthetics of Grief and Mourning, philosopher Kathleen Marie Higgins reflects on the ways that aesthetics aids people experiencing loss. Some practices related to bereavement, such as funerals, are scripted, but many others are recursive, improvisational, mundane—telling stories, listening to music, and reflecting on art or literature. Higgins shows how these grounding, aesthetic practices can ease the disorienting effects of loss, shedding new light on the importance of aesthetics for personal and communal flourishing.

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After Effects
A Memoir of Complicated Grief
Andrea Gilats
University of Minnesota Press, 2021

An intensely moving and revelatory memoir of enduring and emerging from exceptional grief

To grieve after a profound loss is perfectly natural and healthy. To be debilitated by grief for more than a decade, as Andrea Gilats was, is something else. In her candid, deeply moving, and ultimately helpful memoir of breaking free of death’s relentless grip on her life, Gilats tells her story of living with prolonged, or “complicated,” grief and offers insight, hope, and guidance to others who suffer as she did. 

Thomas Dayton, Andrea Gilats’s husband of twenty years, died at 52 after a five-month battle with cancer. In After Effects Gilats describes the desolation that followed and the slow and torturous twenty-year journey that brought her back to life. In the two years immediately following his death, Gilats wrote Tom daily letters, desperately trying to maintain the twenty-year conversation of their marriage. Excerpts from these letters reveal the depth of her despair but also the glimmer of an awakening as they also trace a different, more typical course of the grief experienced by one of Gilats's colleagues, also widowed. Gilats’s struggle to rescue herself takes her through the temptation of suicide, the threat of deadly illness, the overwhelming challenges of work, and the rigor of learning and eventually teaching yoga, to a moment of reckoning and, finally, reconciliation to a life without her beloved partner. Her story is informed by the lessons she learned about complicated grief as a disorder that, while intensely personal, can be defined, grappled with, and overcome.

Though complicated grief affects as many as one in seven of those stricken by the loss of a close loved one, it is little known outside professional circles. After Effects points toward a path of recuperation and provides solace along the way—a service and a comfort that is all the more timely and necessary in our pandemic-ravaged world of loss and isolation.


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Ambiguous Loss
Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief
Pauline Boss
Harvard University Press, 2009

When a loved one dies we mourn our loss. We take comfort in the rituals that mark the passing, and we turn to those around us for support. But what happens when there is no closure, when a family member or a friend who may be still alive is lost to us nonetheless? How, for example, does the mother whose soldier son is missing in action, or the family of an Alzheimer’s patient who is suffering from severe dementia, deal with the uncertainty surrounding this kind of loss?

In this sensitive and lucid account, Pauline Boss explains that, all too often, those confronted with such ambiguous loss fluctuate between hope and hopelessness. Suffered too long, these emotions can deaden feeling and make it impossible for people to move on with their lives. Yet the central message of this book is that they can move on. Drawing on her research and clinical experience, Boss suggests strategies that can cushion the pain and help families come to terms with their grief. Her work features the heartening narratives of those who cope with ambiguous loss and manage to leave their sadness behind, including those who have lost family members to divorce, immigration, adoption, chronic mental illness, and brain injury. With its message of hope, this eloquent book offers guidance and understanding to those struggling to regain their lives.


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American Grief in Four Stages
Sadie Hoagland
West Virginia University Press, 2019

American Grief in Four Stages is a collection of stories that imagines trauma as a space in which language fails us and narrative escapes us. These stories play with form and explore the impossibility of elegy and the inability of our culture to communicate grief, or sympathy, outside of cliché.

One narrator, for example, tries to understand her brother’s suicide by excavating his use of idioms. Other stories construe grief and trauma in much subtler ways—the passing of an era or of a daughter’s childhood, the seduction of a neighbor, the inability to have children. From a dinner party with Aztecs to an elderly shut-in’s recollection of her role in the Salem witch trials, these are stories that defy expectations and enrich the imagination. As a whole, this collection asks the reader to envisage the ways in which we suffer as both unbearably painful and unbearably American.


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The Back Bench
Margaret Hope Bacon
QuakerPress, 2007

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Because What Else Could I Do
Martha Collins
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019
Winner of the 2020 Poetry Society of America's William Carlos Williams Award

Because What Else Could I Do is a sequence of fifty-five untitled short poems, almost all of them addressed to the poet’s husband during the six months following his sudden and shocking death. Perhaps best known for her historical explorations of sociopolitical issues, Martha Collins did not originally intend to publish these poems. But while they are intensely personal, they make use of all of her poetic attention and skills. Spare, fragmented, musical even in their most heartbreaking moments, the poems allow the reader to share both an intimate expression the poet’s grief and a moving record of her attempt to comprehend the events surrounding her loss.

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Bird Relics
Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau
Branka Arsić
Harvard University Press, 2016

Birds were never far from Thoreau’s mind. They wing their way through his writing just as they did through his cabin on Walden Pond, summoned or dismissed at whim by his whistles. Emblematic of life, death, and nature’s endless capacity for renewal, birds offer passage into the loftiest currents of Thoreau’s thought. What Branka Arsić finds there is a theory of vitalism that Thoreau developed in response to his brother’s death. Through grieving, Thoreau came to see life as a generative force into which everything dissolves. Death is not an annulment of life but the means of its transformation and reemergence.

Bird Relics traces Thoreau’s evolving thoughts through his investigation of Greek philosophy and the influence of a group of Harvard vitalists who resisted the ideas of the naturalist Louis Agassiz. It takes into account materials often overlooked by critics: his Indian Notebooks and unpublished bird notebooks; his calendars that rewrite how we tell time; his charts of falling leaves, through which he develops a complex theory of decay; and his obsession with vegetal pathology, which inspires a novel understanding of the relationship between disease and health.

Arsić’s radical reinterpretation of Thoreau’s life philosophy gives new meaning to some of his more idiosyncratic habits, such as writing obituaries for people he did not know and frequenting estate sales, and raises important questions about the ethics of Thoreau’s practice of appropriating the losses of others as if they were his own.


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Tracy Youngblom
CavanKerry Press, 2023
A poetry collection focused on grief and the many ways it can impact a family.

The death of a youngest child. An alcoholic and distant father. A grief-stricken family. A tentative faith. These are the building blocks of Boy, a sequence of poems that explores how death and loss color memory and influence the ways family members relate to each other and to their shared history.

Inspired by the death of her own younger brother, Tracy Youngblom has written a poetry collection that serves as a companion to grief. This book is for those who love poetry and those who are intimidated by it, those interested in the way childhood experience shapes life, and those interested in the psychology of addiction.

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Brothers in Grief
The Hidden Toll of Gun Violence on Black Boys and Their Schools
Nora Gross
University of Chicago Press, 2024
A heartbreaking account of grief, Black boyhood, and how we can support young people as they navigate loss.
JahSun, a dependable, much-loved senior at Boys’ Prep was just hitting his stride in the fall of 2017. He had finally earned a starting position on the varsity football team and was already weighing two college acceptances. Then, over Thanksgiving, tragedy struck. An altercation at his older sister’s home escalated into violence, killing the unarmed teenager in a hail of bullets. JahSun’s untimely death overwhelmed his entire community, sending his family, friends, and school into seemingly insurmountable grief. Worse yet, that spring two additional Boys’ Prep students would be shot to death in their neighborhood. JahSun and his peers are not alone in suffering the toll of gun violence, as every year in the United States teenagers die by gunfire in epidemic numbers, with Black boys most deeply affected.

Brothers in Grief closely attends to the neglected victims of youth gun violence: the suffering friends and classmates who must cope, mostly out of public view, with lasting grief and hidden anguish. Set at an ambitious urban high school for boys during the heartbreaking year following the death of JahSun, the book chronicles the consequences of untimely death on Black teen boys and on a school community struggling to recover. Sociologist Nora Gross tells the story of students attempting to grapple with unthinkable loss, inviting readers in to observe how they move through their days at school and on social media in the aftermath of their friends’ and classmates’ deaths. Gross highlights the discrepancy between their school’s educational mission and teachers’ and administrators’ fraught attempts to care for students’ emotional wellbeing. In the end, the school did not provide adequate space for grief, making it more difficult for students to heal, reengage with school, and imagine hopeful futures. Even so, supportive relationships deepened among students and formed across generations, offering promising examples of productive efforts to channel student grief into positive community change.

A searing testimony of our collective failure to understand the inner lives of our children in crisis, Brothers in Grief invites us all to wrestle with the hidden costs of gun violence on racial and educational inequity.

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Laura Apol
Michigan State University Press, 2024
Cauterize: to burn or freeze the flesh around a wound to stop heavy bleeding. In her sixth full-length collection, award-winning poet Laura Apol returns to themes of loss that are, at least partly, cauterized: her struggles with a conservative religious upbringing, her mother’s illness and death, children growing up and leaving home, losing her adult daughter to suicide, a worldwide pandemic, the casualties of age. With startling honesty, empathy, and lyrical precision, Apol offers insight into the ways some wounds need cautery to begin to heal. This is a book that will resonate with anyone who has grappled with the complexities of grief, forgiveness, resilience, and healing across time.

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The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us
Nancy Berns
Temple University Press, 2011

When it comes to the end of a relationship, the loss of a loved one, or even a national tragedy, we are often told we need “closure.” But while some people do find closure for their pain and grief, many more feel closure does not exist and believe the notion only promises false hopes. Sociologist Nancy Berns explores these ideas and their ramifications in her timely book, Closure.

Berns uncovers the various interpretations and contradictory meanings of closure. She identifies six types of “closure talk,” revealing closure as a socially constructed concept—a “new emotion.” Berns also explores how closure has been applied widely in popular media and how the idea has been appropriated as a political tool and to sell products and services.

This book explains how the push for closure—whether we find it helpful, engaging, or enraging—is changing our society.


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Companionship in Grief
Love and Loss in the Memoirs of C. S. Lewis, John Bayley, Donald Hall, Joan Didion, and Calvin Trillin
Jeffrey Berman
University of Massachusetts Press, 2010
In Companionship in Grief, Jeffrey Berman focuses on the most life-changing event for many people—the death of a spouse. Some of the most acclaimed memoirs of the past fifty years offer insights into this profound loss: C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed; John Bayley's three memoirs about Iris Murdoch, including Elegy for Iris; Donald Hall's The Best Day the Worst Day; Joan Didion's best-selling The Year of Magical Thinking; and Calvin Trillin's About Alice. These books explore the nature of spousal bereavement, the importance of caregiving, the role of writing in recovery, and the possibility of falling in love again after a devastating loss. Throughout his study, Berman traces the theme of love and loss in all five memoirists' fictional and nonfictional writings as well as in those of their spouses, who were also accomplished writers. Combining literary studies, grief and bereavement theory, attachment theory, composition studies, and trauma theory, Companionship in Grief will appeal to anyone who has experienced love and loss. Berman's research casts light on five remarkable marriages, showing how autobiographical stories of love and loss can memorialize deceased spouses and offer wisdom and comfort to readers.

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Country Songs for Alice
Emma Binder
Tupelo Press, 2024
An examination of obsession, gender, love, and loss in contemporary rural America.

In Country Songs for Alice, a nonbinary, queer narrator passes through the crucible of love, romance, and heartbreak against the backdrop of rural America—a landscape which offers luminous belonging, even as the hazards of homophobia, loneliness, and isolation loom large. Part roadtrip, part mixtape, these poems are explorations of love, music, romance, pageantry, loneliness, and belonging in the rural places and small towns that seem to preclude queer culture. Country Songs for Alice not only tells the story of a relationship and its dissolution but reclaims country western imagery and aesthetics for a queer audience, dousing the narrator’s experience in the language of cowboys, horses, rodeos, trucks, and desert skies.

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The Cue for Passion
Grief and Its Political Uses
Gail Holst-Warhaft
Harvard University Press, 2000

Having set aside age-old ways of mourning, how do people in the modern world cope with tragic loss? Using traditional mourning rituals as an instructive touchstone, Gail Holst-Warhaft explores the ways sorrow is managed in our own times and how mourning can be manipulated for social and political ends.

Since ancient times political and religious authorities have been alert to the dangerously powerful effects of communal expressions of grief--while valuing mourning rites as a controlled outlet for emotion. But today grief is often seen as a psychological problem: the bereaved are encouraged to seek counseling or take antidepressants. At the same time, we have witnessed some striking examples of manipulation of shared grief for political effect. One instance is the unprecedented concentration on recovery of the remains of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. In Buenos Aires the Mothers of the Disappeared forged the passion of their grief into a political weapon. Similarly the gay community in the United States, transformed by grief and rage, not only lobbied effectively for AIDS victims but channeled their emotions into fresh artistic expression.

It might be argued that, in contrast to earlier cultures, modern society has largely abdicated its role in managing sorrow. But in The Cue for Passion we see that some communities, moved by the intensity of their grief, have utilized it to gain ground for their own agendas.


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Dears, Beloveds
Kevin Phan
University Press of Colorado, 2020
The prose poetry in Kevin Phan’s first collection, Dears, Beloveds, offers a fine-grained meditation on grief—personal, familial, ecological, and political. Informed by the author’s engagement with Buddhism & mindfulness, the poems address looming absences: in our vanishing earth, the scraps of a haunting voicemail, or waiting at hospice with little to do. In these pages, the poet fights his way out of isolation, to establish filigrees of connectedness with himself, other humans, and the natural world. Whether meditating on the bodily loss of his cancer-stricken mother, the Black Lives Matter movement, or a shadow falling from a speck of dust in the kitchen, these lines are notable for their crisp and surprising movements, lucid imagery, aching tenderness, & humanity. Dears, Beloveds reminds us of the ironies, beauty, and complexity of our time on earth, as beings in time. Where we hurt. Where we heal each other.

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Dogs of Detroit, The
Brad Felver
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018
The 14 stories of The Dogs of Detroit each focus on grief and its many strange permutations. This grief alternately devolves into violence, silence, solitude, and utter isolation. In some cases, grief drives the stories as a strong, reactionary force, and yet in other stories, that grief evolves quietly over long stretches of time. Many of the stories also use grief as a prism to explore the beguiling bonds within families. The stories span a variety of geographies, both urban and rural, often considering collisions between the two.

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The Faulkes Chronicle
David Huddle
Tupelo Press, 2015
A work of uncanny originality, David Huddle’s nineteenth book is the account of an extraordinary death trip taken by a charismatic and beloved woman, her husband, and an astonishing number of offspring, from infants to young adults. The Faulkes Chronicle explores how children grieve, and shows how the wit and courage of even the littlest brothers and sisters can be a source of resiliance. Familial conversation composes an intimate requiem, transforming loss into comprehension. Only one of our finest writers could manage this delicate material. The Faulkes Chronicle is a brief, autumnal novel — made of momentary details yet with an encompassing grandeur.


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A Fine Yellow Dust
Laura Apol
Michigan State University Press, 2021
In late April 2017, Laura Apol’s twenty-six-year-old daughter, Hanna, took her own life. Apol had long believed in the therapeutic possibilities of writing, having conducted workshops on writing-for-healing for more than a decade. Yet after Hanna’s death, she had her own therapeutic writing to do, turning her anguish, disbelief, and love into poems that map the first year of loss. This collection is the result of that writing, giving voice to grief as it is lived, moment by moment, memory by memory, event by event. While most writing about loss does so from a distance, Apol chooses instead to write from inside those days and months and seasons, allowing readers to experience alongside the poet the moments, the questions, and the deep longings that shape the first grief-year.

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Ford Road
Amy Kenyon
University of Michigan Press, 2012

After the death of her mother, Kay Seger abandons her career as a historical consultant to a Los Angeles film company and returns to her childhood home in Michigan. There, she rekindles a teenage love affair with Joe Chase, now a Vietnam War veteran and Ford auto worker. Afflicted by grief and the mysterious symptoms of an unidentified ailment, Kay, at Joe's urging, begins an investigation of her family's past.

As Kay pores over the boxes of papers, letters, and photo albums her mother left behind, vivid recollections of a bygone Detroit, ragged and teeming at the start of the automotive age, come to life alongside snapshots of Michigan's rural western counties after the settlement of the frontier. In the midst of her searches, Kay comes across the long-forgotten medical history of nostalgia, and it is this new knowledge that helps her to recover the lost histories of her family and find a resolution to her troubled relationship with Joe.

An exploration of memory as both pathology and promise, Ford Roadoffers a moving examination of the injuries we inflict on the people closest to us, the worldly injuries that are often beyond our control, and our astonishing ability to act upon and inhabit our own stories. It is also a meditation on American car culture, the road, and the role of early Hollywood in the creation of America's vision of itself. Written in spare, evocative prose, historian Amy Kenyon's first novel is as heartbreaking as it is thought-provoking.


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Geometry of Grief
Reflections on Mathematics, Loss, and Life
Michael Frame
University of Chicago Press, 2021
In this profound and hopeful book, a mathematician and celebrated teacher shows how mathematics may help all of us—even the math-averse—to understand and cope with grief.
We all know the euphoria of intellectual epiphany—the thrill of sudden understanding. But coupled with that excitement is a sense of loss: a moment of epiphany can never be repeated. In Geometry of Grief, mathematician Michael Frame draws on a career’s worth of insight—including his work with a pioneer of fractal geometry Benoit Mandelbrot—and a gift for rendering the complex accessible as he delves into this twinning of understanding and loss. Grief, Frame reveals, can be a moment of possibility.

Frame investigates grief as a response to an irrevocable change in circumstance. This reframing allows us to see parallels between the loss of a loved one or a career and the loss of the elation of first understanding a tricky concept. From this foundation, Frame builds a geometric model of mental states. An object that is fractal, for example, has symmetry of magnification: magnify a picture of a mountain or a fern leaf—both fractal—and we see echoes of the original shape. Similarly, nested inside great loss are smaller losses. By manipulating this geometry, Frame shows us, we may be able to redirect our thinking in ways that help reduce our pain. Small‐scale losses, in essence, provide laboratories to learn how to meet large-scale losses.

Interweaving original illustrations, clear introductions to advanced topics in geometry, and wisdom gleaned from his own experience with illness and others’ remarkable responses to devastating loss, Frame’s poetic book is a journey through the beautiful complexities of mathematics and life. With both human sympathy and geometrical elegance, it helps us to see how a geometry of grief can open a pathway for bold action.

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The Golden Road
Rachel Hadas
Northwestern University Press, 2012
A central theme of The Golden Road is the prolonged dementia of the poet’s husband. But Rachel Hadas’s new collection sets the loneliness of progressive loss in the context of the continuities that sustain her: reading, writing, and memory; familiar places; and the rich texture of a life fully lived. These poems are meticulously observed, nimble in their deployment of a range of forms, and capacious in their range of reference. They take us to a Greek island, to Carl Schurz Park in New York City, to an old house in Vermont, to a performance of Macbeth, and to the neurology floor of a hospital. Hadas finds beauty in all those places. The Golden Road laments, but it also celebrates.

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Grief and the Hero
The Futility of Longing in the Iliad
Emily P. Austin
University of Michigan Press, 2021

Grief and the Hero examines Achilles’ experience of the futility of grief in the context of the Iliad’s study of anger. No action can undo his friend Patroklos’ death, but the experience of death drives him to behave as though he can achieve something restorative. Rather than assuming that grief gives rise to anger, as most scholars have done, Grief and the Hero pays close attention to the poem’s representation of the origin of these emotions. In the Iliad, only Achilles’ grief for Patroklos is joined with the word pothê, “longing”; no other grief in the poem is described with this term. The Iliad depicts Achilles’ grief as the rupture of shared life—an insight that generates a new way of reading the epic. Achilles’ anguish drives him to extremes, oscillating between self-isolation and seeking communal expressions of grief; between weeping abundantly and relentlessly pursuing battle; between varied threats of mutilation, deeds of vengeance, and other vows. Yet his yearning for life shared with Patroklos is the common denominator. Here lies the profound insight of the Iliad. All of Achilles’ grief-driven deeds arise from his longing for life with Patroklos, and thus all of these deeds are, in a deep sense, futile. He yearns for something unattainable—undoing the reality of death. Grief and the Hero will appeal not only to scholars and students of Homer but to all humanists. Loss, longing, and even revenge touch many human lives, and the insights of the Iliad have broad resonance.


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Grief is a Sneaky Bitch
An Uncensored Guide to Navigating Loss
Lisa Keefauver
University of Texas Press, 2024

A comprehensive and compassionate guide to navigating loss.

When social worker Lisa Keefauver became a widow in 2011, she was alarmed to discover that even though 100 percent of us experience loss, we’re living in a grief illiterate world. In her work as a therapist, and in her search for help in the wake of her own loss, Keefauver began to see how the misguided stories we consume about grief lead to unnecessary suffering. Responding to the problematic narratives that grief is something to move on from after completing the five stages like some sort of to-do list, Keefauver became a grief activist. Through this book and her hit podcast of the same title, she creates a safe place to be inside the messiness of it all, to discover the full spectrum of grief, and to find the tools that help grievers move forward, not on. Grief is a Sneaky Bitch is a comprehensive guide—both a manual full of insights and skills and, even more importantly, a thoughtful companion that helps readers feel seen and held.

Keefauver shares her personal and professional wisdom alongside the lessons she’s learned from clinicians, authors, poets, and friends. In place of rigid instructions and must-do checklists, Grief is a Sneaky Bitch invites reflection, encourages self-compassion, and explores the therapeutic power of humor with, yes, a bit of profanity.


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Kristina Jipson
Tupelo Press, 2016
Kristina Jipson’s Halve peels away the layers of orderly narrative with which we try and tame the chaos of mourning. At once frank and elusive, Jipson’s poems resist the pull of storytelling and personal confiding, instead using formal variation to embody emotion and memory. These poems lay bare the experience of losing a brother and evoke the haunting that results as language fails to contain either grief or the love that precedes such a loss.

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Holiday in the Islands of Grief
Jeffrey McDaniel
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020
In his new collection, Jeffrey McDaniel confronts the insular and expansive qualities of loss. With electric language and surrealistic imagery, McDaniel’s poems deliver the quotidian elements of middle-age life while weaving us in & out of childhood and adulthood alongside body and mind. The tragic and life affirming share the same page and the same world, reminding us how close corruption can be to innocence; domesticity to fantasy; aging to youth. 
We are underwater off the coast of Belize.
The water is lit up even though its dark
as if there are illuminated seashells
scattered on the ocean floor.
We’re not wearing oxygen tanks,
yet staying underwater for long stretches.
We are looking for the body of the boy
we lost. Each year he grows a little older.
Last December I opened his knapsack
and stuck in a plastic box of carrots.
Even though we’re underwater, we hear
a song playing over a policeman’s radio.
He comes to the shoreline to park
and eat midnight sandwiches, his headlights
fanning out across the harbor.
And I hold you close, apple of my closed eye,
red dance of my opened fist. 

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Imagining the End
Mourning and Ethical Life
Jonathan Lear
Harvard University Press, 2022

A Washington Post Notable Work of Nonfiction
A Chronicle of Higher Education Best Scholarly Book

“A deeply insightful and thought-enriching work by one of the most original philosophers writing today. Imagining the End is acutely aware of the danger we stand in of finding ourselves on an uninhabitable planet. But Lear is also aware of how the consciousness of impending loss can bring out the illumination inherent in meaningful life, often occluded in day-to-day living.”
–Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age

“Lear is a lovely and subtle writer, someone who has a rare capacity to introduce ways of seeing and interrogating the world that dignify our confusion and pain while also opening up new possibilities for moving forward.”–Daniel Oppenheimer, Washington Post

The range of Jonathan Lear’s abilities—as a philosopher and psychoanalyst who draws from ancient and modern thought, personal history, and everyday experience to help us think about how we can flourish in a world of flux and finitude—is on full display in Imagining the End. Lear masterfully explores how we respond to loss, crisis, and hope, considering our bewilderment in the face of planetary catastrophe. He examines the role of the humanities in expanding our imaginative and emotional repertoire.

How might we live, he asks, when we realize just how vulnerable the cultures to which we traditionally turn for solace might be? He addresses how mourning can help us thrive, the role of moral exemplars in shaping our sense of the good, and the place of gratitude in human life. Along the way, he touches on figures as diverse as Aristotle, Abraham Lincoln, Sigmund Freud, and the British royals Harry and Meghan. Written with Lear’s characteristic elegance, philosophical depth, and psychological perceptiveness, Imagining the End is a powerful meditation on persistence in an age of turbulence and anxiety.


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Instead of Dying
Lauren Haldeman
University Press of Colorado, 2017
Invoking spiders and senators, physicists and aliens, Lauren Haldeman’s second book, Instead of Dying, decodes the world of death with a powerful mix of humor, epiphany, and agonizing grief. In the spirit of Calvino’s Invisible Cities, these poems compulsively imagine alternate realities for a lost sibling (“Instead of dying, they inject you with sunlight & you live” or “Instead of dying, you join a dog-sledding team in Quebec”), relentlessly recording the unlived possibilities that blossom from the purgative magical thinking of mourning. Whether she is channeling Google Maps Street View to visit a scene of murder (“Because / a picture of this place is / also a picture of you”) or investigating the origins of consciousness (“Yes, alien / life-forms exist / they are your thoughts”), Haldeman wrenches verse into new sublime forms, attempting to both translate the human experience as well as encrypt it, inviting readers into realms where we hover, plunge, rise again, and ascend.

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Left Turns in Brown Study
Sandra Ruiz
Duke University Press, 2024
In Left Turns in Brown Study Sandra Ruiz offers a poetic-theoretical inquiry into the interlacing forms of study and mourning. Drawing on Black and Brown activism and theory, Ruiz interweaves poetry, memoir, lyrical essay, and vignettes to examine study as an emancipatory practice. Proposing “brown study” as key for understanding how Brownness harbors loss and suffering along with the possibility for more abundant ways of living, Ruiz invites readers to turn left into the sounds, phrases, and principles of anticolonial ways of reading, writing, citing, and listening. In doing so, Ruiz engages with a panoply of hauntings, ghosts, and spectral presences, from deceased teachers, illiterate ancestors, and those lost to unnatural disasters to all those victims of institutional and colonial violence. Study is shared movement and Brownness lives in citation. Conceptual, poetic, and unconventional, this book is crucial for all those who theorize minoritarian literary aesthetics and think through utopia, queer possibility, and the entwinement of forms.

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Loneliness as a Way of Life
Thomas Dumm
Harvard University Press, 2010

“What does it mean to be lonely?” Thomas Dumm asks. His inquiry, documented in this book, takes us beyond social circumstances and into the deeper forces that shape our very existence as modern individuals. The modern individual, Dumm suggests, is fundamentally a lonely self. Through reflections on philosophy, political theory, literature, and tragic drama, he proceeds to illuminate a hidden dimension of the human condition. His book shows how loneliness shapes the contemporary division between public and private, our inability to live with each other honestly and in comity, the estranged forms that our intimate relationships assume, and the weakness of our common bonds.

A reading of the relationship between Cordelia and her father in Shakespeare’s King Lear points to the most basic dynamic of modern loneliness—how it is a response to the problem of the “missing mother.” Dumm goes on to explore the most important dimensions of lonely experience—Being, Having, Loving, and Grieving. As the book unfolds, he juxtaposes new interpretations of iconic cultural texts—Moby-Dick, Death of a Salesman, the film Paris, Texas, Emerson’s “Experience,” to name a few—with his own experiences of loneliness, as a son, as a father, and as a grieving husband and widower.

Written with deceptive simplicity, Loneliness as a Way of Life is something rare—an intellectual study that is passionately personal. It challenges us, not to overcome our loneliness, but to learn how to re-inhabit it in a better way. To fail to do so, this book reveals, will only intensify the power that it holds over us.


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Love’s Long Line
Sophfronia Scott
The Ohio State University Press, 2018

Sophfronia Scott turns an unflinching eye on her life to deliver a poignant collection of essays ruminating on faith, motherhood, race, and the search for meaningful connection in an increasingly disconnected world.
In Love’s Long Line, Scott contemplates what her son taught her about grief after the shootings at his school, Sandy Hook Elementary; how a walk with Lena Horne became a remembrance of love for Scott’s illiterate and difficult steelworker father; the unexpected heartache of being a substitute school bus driver; and the satisfying fantasy of paying off a mortgage. Scott’s road is also a spiritual journey ignited by an exploration of her first name, the wonder of her physical being, and coming to understand why her soul must dance like Saturday Night Fever’s Tony Manero.
Inspired by Annie Dillard’s observation in Holy the Firm that we all “reel out love’s long line alone . . . like a live wire loosed in space to longing and grief everlasting,” Scott’s essays acknowledge the loneliness, longing, and grief exacted by a fearless engagement with the everyday world. But she shows that by holding the line, there is an abundance of joy and forgiveness and grace to be had as well.

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Loving Rachel
A Family's Journey from Grief
Jane Bernstein
University of Illinois Press, 2007

In 1983, Jane Bernstein had everything she ever wanted: a healthy four-year-old daughter, Charlotte; a happy marriage; a highly praised first novel; and a brand new baby, Rachel. But by the time Rachel was six weeks old,

a neuro-ophthalmologist told Jane and her husband that their baby was blind. Although there was some hope that Rachel might gain partial vision as she grew, her condition was one that often resulted in seizure disorders and intellectual impairment. So began a series of medical and emotional setbacks that were to plague Rachel and her parents and strain their marriage to the breaking point. Spanning the first four years of Rachel’s life, Loving Rachel is a heartbreaking chronicle of a marriage and a compelling story of parental love told with searing honesty and surprising humor.


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Lucchesi and The Whale
Frank Lentricchia
Duke University Press, 2001
Lucchesi and The Whale is an unusual work of fiction by noted author and critic Frank Lentricchia. Its central character, Thomas Lucchesi Jr., is a college professor in the American heartland whose obsessions and compulsions include traveling to visit friends in their last moments of life—because grief alone inspires him to write—and searching for secret meaning in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. Himself a writer of “stories full of violence in a poetic style,” Lucchesi tells his students that he teaches “only because [his] fiction is commercially untouchable” and to “never forget that.” Austerely isolated, anxiety-ridden, and relentlessly self-involved, Lucchesi nonetheless cannot completely squelch his eagerness for love.
Having become “a mad Ahab of reading,” who is driven to dissect the “artificial body of Melville’s behemothian book” to grasp its truth, Lucchesi allows his thoughts to wander and loop from theory to dream to reality to questionable memory. But his black humor-tinged musings are often as profoundly moving as they are intellectual, such as the section in which he ponders the life and philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein in relation to the significance of a name—and then attempts to share these thoughts with a sexy, middle-aged flight attendant—or another in which he describes a chance meeting with a similarly-named mafia don.
Despite apparent spiritual emptiness, Lucchesi in the end does find “a secret meaning” to Moby-Dick. And Lentricchia’s creations—both Lucchesi and The Whale and its main character—reveal this meaning through a series of ingeniously self-reflective metaphors, in much the way that Melville himself did in and through Moby-Dick. Vivid, humorous, and of unparalleled originality, this new work from Frank Lentricchia will inspire and console all who love and ponder both great literature and those who would write it.

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Kristin Keane
Omnidawn, 2021
Agnes has been drifting away from herself. People look through her, her husband doesn’t understand her, and lately, she’s begun losing the sensations in her body. When a tube of shoplifted lipstick awakens her back to life, an impulse for stealing emerges that leads her to a court-ordered service at a camp for grieving children. While initially hoping only that the time there will help her give up stealing, Agnes soon learns that she can use objects to connect grieving children with the spirits of their parents. She must navigate the choice between using her compulsion for her own pleasure and helping the bereaved. Luminaries is about the things we take and about the things that are taken from us. It asks what it means to exist in lives filled with loss, to reach for the things we hope will restore us, and the risks we’re willing to take to ward off yearning—both in our material lives and social lives.

Luminaries is the winner of the Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction Novelette/Chapbook Prize, selected by Kellie Wells.

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The Many Woods of Grief
Lucas Farrell
University of Massachusetts Press, 2011
In this striking debut volume, Lucas Farrell offers a lyrical and illuminating field guide to the flora and fauna of "worlds just out of reach." With the precision and detail of an Audubon sketch, he turns his naturalist's eye to the vast landscape of human emotion—all the while affirming "how real this world we live in / must be to live in."

Journeying ever outward, from the achingly ordinary to the mysterious "land where there is no land," the narrator of this collection, equal parts pastoralist and surrealist, explores the vivid in-betweens—between love and loss, hilarity and despair, wild and domestic, real and imagined. Hungry, expressive, and original, these poems glean light from even the darkest of fields.From "Further Along Now"Further along the curves of gesture, the delicateapostrophe, in the tongues of muted suns, we'll findourselves in a clearing, in a meadow of ancient grass,picking apart what has long been picked apart. Furtheralong, the compliments, the tweezers and logic, thelaboratory of hard hats and felt pens and hard headsand clipboards hanging from sky's bloody fender, birddroppings steaming calligraphic so long as the cloudsbecome clouds become clouds and amazed we see insuch preventable warfare our own substancesunchanging. Fountains of ash too diffuse to interpret,too complex to diagnose, I quote the many woods ofgrief, too far alone, too deep.

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Maranatha Road
Heather Bell Adams
West Virginia University Press, 2017
After Sadie’s son, Mark, is gone, she doesn’t have much use for other people, including her husband. The last person she wants to see is Tinley Greene, who shows up claiming she’s pregnant with Mark’s baby.
Sadie knows Tinley must be lying because Mark was engaged and never would have betrayed his fiancée. So she refuses to help, and she doesn’t breathe a word about it to anybody. But in a small, southern town like Garnet, nothing stays secret for long.
Once Sadie starts piecing together what happened to Mark, she discovers she was wrong about Tinley. And when her husband is rushed to the hospital, Sadie must hurry to undo her mistake before he runs out of time to meet their grandchild.

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Mishkan Aveilut
Where Grief Resides
Rabbi Eric Weiss
Central Conference of American Rabbis, 2018

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Missing Persons
A Memoir
Gayle Greene
University of Nevada Press, 2017
Missing Persons is a memoir about dealing with death in a culture that gives no help. As the last of her family, Greene’s losses are stark, first her aunt, then her mother, in quick succession. She is as ill-equipped for the challenges of caring for a dying person at home as she is for the other losses, long repressed, that rise to confront her at this time: the suicide of her younger brother, the death of her father. As the professional identity on which she’s based her selfhood comes to feel brittle and trivial, she is catapulted  into questions of “who am I?” and “what have I done with my life?”

The memoir is structured as an account of her mother's and aunt’s final days and the year that follows, a year in which she reconstructs her life. This is a  powerful story about family, what it means to have one, to lose one, never to have made one, and what, if anything, might take its place. It’s the story of a vexed mother-daughter relationship that mellows with age. It is also a search for home, as the very landscape shifts around her and the vast orchards are dug up and paved over for tract housing, strip malls, freeways, and the Santa Clara Valley, once known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight, is transformed to “Silicon.”

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Mourning in the Anthropocene
Ecological Grief and Earthly Coexistence
Joshua Trey Barnett
Michigan State University Press, 2022
Enormous ecological losses and profound planetary transformations mean that ours is a time to grieve beyond the human. Yet, Joshua Trey Barnett argues in this eloquent and urgent book, our capacity to grieve for more-than-human others is neither natural nor inevitable. Weaving together personal narratives, theoretical meditations, and insightful readings of cultural artifacts, he suggests that ecological grief is best understood as a rhetorical achievement. As a collection of worldmaking practices, rhetoric makes things matter, bestows value, directs attention, generates knowledge, and foments feelings. By dwelling on three rhetorical practices—naming, archiving, and making visible—Barnett shows how they prepare us to grieve past, present, and future ecological losses. Simultaneously diagnostic and prescriptive, this book reveals rhetorical practices that set our ecological grief into motion and illuminates pathways to more connected, caring earthly coexistence.

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My Radio Radio
Jessie van Eerden
West Virginia University Press, 2016

The members of Dunlap Fellowship of All Things in Common share everything from their meager incomes to the only functioning toilet in the community house— everything, that is, except secrets. When Omi Ruth Wincott, the youngest member of the disintegrating common-purse community in this small Indiana town, loses her only brother, Woodrun, she withdraws from everyone and fixates on a secret desire: She wishes only for an extravagant head- stone to mark Woodrun’s grave, an expense that the strict, parsimonious community can’t—or won’t—pay for. In her loneliness, Omi Ruth’s only ties to the world remain her National Geographic magazines and a new resident in the house, Northrop, an old man caught between living and dying, maintained in a vegetative state by hospice care.

Observing everything with the keen eye of a girl with a photographic memory, Omi Ruth finds herself learning to grieve in the company of unlikely strangers. With the help of a homeless and pregnant Tracie Casteel, a rebellious Amish boy named Spencer Frye, and the smooth-talking Vaughn Buey who works third shift at Dunlap’s RV plant, Omi Ruth discovers that there are two things of which there is no shortage in the world’s common purse—love and loss. 


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Night Burial
Kate Bolton Bonnici
University Press of Colorado, 2020
In Night Burial, Kate Bolton Bonnici mourns her mother’s death from ovarian cancer by tracing the composition, decomposition, and recomposition of the maternal body. Opening with an epigraph from Julia Kristeva’s Stabat Mater, which recognizes the “abyss that opens up between the body and what had been its inside,” Night Burial moves from breastfeeding to laying sod on a grave, weaving together Alabama pine forests, fairy tales, philosophy, classical and Renaissance literatures, church practices, and hospice care. Through centuries-old and newly imagined poetic forms, Night Burial crafts a haunting litany for the dead. These poems ask the essential questions of grief, intertwined with family and place: how do we address the absent beloved and might the poem become its own conjuring whereby the I can once again speak to the you?

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Olav Audunssøn
III. Crossroads
Sigrid Undset
University of Minnesota Press, 2022

The third volume in the Nobel Prize–winning writer’s epic story of medieval Norway, finely capturing Undset’s fluid, natural style in the first English translation in nearly a century

In the early fourteenth century, Norway is a kingdom in political turmoil, struggling with opposing forces within its own borders and drawn into strife with neighboring Sweden and Denmark. Bloody family vendettas and conflicting loyalties sparked by the irrepressible passion of a boy and his foster sister (also his betrothed) have now set in motion a series of terrible consequences—with a legacy of betrayal, murder, and disgrace that will echo down through the generations. Crossroads, the third of Olav Audunssøn’s four volumes, finds Olav heartbroken by loss and further estranged from his son. To escape his grief, Olav leaves his home estate of Hestviken and agrees to serve as captain on a small merchant ship headed to London. There, separated from everything familiar to him, Olav begins a visionary journey that will send him far into the forest and deep into his soul. Questioning past decisions and future plans, Olav must grapple with his own perceptions of love and guilt, sin and penitence, vengeance and forgiveness. 

Set in a time and place where royalty and religion vie for power, and bloodlines and loyalties are law, Crossroads summons a powerful picture of Northern life in medieval times, as the Swedish Academy noted in awarding Sigrid Undset the Nobel Prize in 1928. Conveying both the intimate drama and epic sweep of Olav’s story as grief and guilt drive him to ever more desperate action, Crossroads is a moving and masterly re-creation of a vanished world tainted by bloodshed and haunted by sin and retribution. 

As with Kristin Lavransdatter, her earlier medieval epic, Undset immersed herself in the legal, religious, and historical documents of the time while writing Olav Audunssøn to create astoundingly authentic and compelling portraits of Norwegian life in the Middle Ages. And as in her translation of Kristin Lavransdatter, Tiina Nunnally does full justice to Undset’s natural, fluid prose, in a style that delicately and lyrically conveys the natural world, the complex culture, and the fraught emotional territory against which Olav’s story inexorably unfolds.


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The Other Side of Grief
The Home Front and the Aftermath in American Narratives of the Vietnam War
Maureen Ryan
University of Massachusetts Press, 2008
The lingering aftereffects of the Vietnam War resonate to this day throughout American society: in foreign policy, in attitudes about the military and war generally, and in the contemporary lives of members of the so-called baby boom generation who came of age during the 1960s and early 1970s. While the best-known personal accounts of the war tend to center on the experience of combat, Maureen Ryan's The Other Side of Grief examines the often overlooked narratives—novels, short stories, memoirs, and films—that document the war's impact on the home front.

In analyzing the accounts of Vietnam veterans, women as well as men, Ryan focuses on the process of readjustment, on how the war continued to insinuate itself into their lives, their families, and their communities long after they returned home. She looks at the writings of women whose husbands, lovers, brothers, and sons served in Vietnam and whose own lives were transformed as a result. She also appraises the experiences of the POWs who came to be embraced as the war's only heroes; the ordeal of Vietnamese refugees who fled their "American War" to new lives in the United States; and the influential movement created by those who committed themselves to protesting the war.

The end result of Ryan's investigations is a cogent synthesis of the vast narrative literature generated by the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Together those stories powerfully demonstrate how deeply the legacies of the war penetrated American culture and continue to reverberate still.

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Our Grateful Dead
Stories of Those Left Behind
Vinciane Despret
University of Minnesota Press, 2021

An award-winning exploration of the presence of the dead in the lives of the living

A common remedy after suffering the loss of a loved one is to progress through the “stages of grief,” with “acceptance” as the final stage in the process. But is it necessary to leave death behind, to stop dwelling on the dead, to get over the pain? Vinciane Despret thinks not. In her fascinating, elegantly translated book, this influential thinker argues that, in practice, people in all cultures continue to enjoy a lively, inventive, positive relationship with their dead.

Through her unique storytelling woven from ethnographic sources and her own family history, Despret assembles accounts of those who have found ways to live their daily lives with their dead. She rejects the idea that one must either subscribe to “complete mourning” (in a sense, to get rid of the dead) or else fall into fantasy and superstition. She explores instead how the dead still play an active, tangible role through those who are living, who might assume their place in a family or in society; continue their labor or art; or thrive from a shared inheritance or an organ donation. This is supported by dreams and voices, novels, television and popular culture, the work of clairvoyants, and the everyday stories and activities of the living. For decades now, in the West, the dead have been discreet and invisible. Today, especially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Despret suggests that perhaps we will be willing to engage with the dead in ways that bring us happiness despite our loss. 

Despret’s unique method of inquiry makes her book both entertaining and instructive. Our Grateful Dead offers a new, pragmatic approach to social and cultural research and may indeed provide compassionate therapy for those of us coping with death.


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Political Mourning
Identity and Responsibility in the Wake of Tragedy
Heather Pool
Temple University Press, 2021

What leads us to respond politically to the deaths of some citizens and not others? This is one of the critical questions Heather Pool asks in Political Mourning. Born out of her personal experiences with the trauma of 9/11, Pool’s astute book looks at how death becomes political, and how it can mobilize everyday citizens to argue for political change. 

Pool examines four tragedies in American history—the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the lynching of Emmett Till, the September 11 attacks, and the Black Lives Matter movement—that offered opportunities to tilt toward justice and democratic inclusion. Some of these opportunities were taken, some were not. However, these watershed moments show, historically, how political identity and political responsibility intersect and how racial identity shapes who is mourned. Political Mourning helps explain why Americans recognize the names of Trayvon Martin and Sandra Bland; activists took those cases public while many similar victims have been ignored by the news media. 

Concluding with an afterword on the coronavirus, Pool emphasizes the importance of collective responsibility for justice and why we ought to respond to tragedy in ways that are more politically inclusive.


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Postcolonial Grief
The Afterlives of the Pacific Wars in the Americas
Jinah Kim
Duke University Press, 2019
In Postcolonial Grief Jinah Kim explores the relationship of mourning to transpacific subjectivities, aesthetics, and decolonial politics since World War II. Kim argues that Asian diasporic subjectivity exists in relation to afterlives because the deaths of those killed by U.S. imperialism and militarism in the Pacific remain unresolved and unaddressed. Kim shows how primarily U.S.-based Korean and Japanese diasporic writers, artists, and filmmakers negotiate the necropolitics of Asia and how their creative refusal to heal from imperial violence may generate transformative antiracist and decolonial politics. She contests prevalent interpretations of melancholia by engaging with Frantz Fanon's and Hisaye Yamamoto's decolonial writings; uncovering the noir genre's relationship to the U.S. war in Korea; discussing the emergence of silenced colonial histories during the 1992 Los Angeles riots; and analyzing the 1996 hostage takeover of the Japanese ambassador's home in Peru. Kim highlights how the aesthetic and creative work of the Japanese and Korean diasporas offers new insights into twenty-first-century concerns surrounding the state's erasure of military violence and colonialism and the difficult work of remembering histories of war across the transpacific.

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A Raft of Grief
Chelsea Rathburn
Autumn House Press, 2013
Winner of the 2012 Autumn House Press Poetry Contest, selected by Stephen Dunn, Chelsea Rathburn's second collection continues to amaze with her ability to direct a clear poet's gaze on every aspect of life. Working in both free-verse and form, this book solidfies Rathburn as an essential voice for contemporary poetry.

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Remembrance Today
Poppies, Grief and Heroism
Ted Harrison
Reaktion Books, 2012
Each November, Americans celebrate Veterans Day, a holiday that honors our armed services and that marks the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. Veterans Day roughly coincides with Remembrance Day in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, where millions of people wear poppies—a flower that bloomed across the battlefields of Flanders and became emblematic of the war—and observe a period of silence at war memorials. For many countries around the world, this day is meant to thank those who give their lives to defend liberty and freedom, but as Ted Harrison reveals in Remembrance Today, the day and the poppies people wear were originally meant as a dedication to the intention that war must never happen again.
Raising questions that are too often ignored, Harrison explores what it means to be heroic and what glory means in the context of military service. Most important, he asks what the purpose of Remembrance is outside honoring the fallen and comforting those who mourn their loss. He contends that if the prime function of holidays like Remembrance Day and Veterans Day is not to serve as a warning against war and a reminder to pursue peaceful solutions, then these days are futile. An examination of how our ideas of heroism, duty, and grief have lost their way, Remembrance Today is a powerful argument to focus again on the meaning behind this poignant holiday.

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Small Altars
Justin Gardiner
Tupelo Press, 2024
A book that bends time and fragments narrative.

In Small Altars, Justin Gardiner delves into the world of comic books and superheroes as a means for coming to terms with the many struggles of his brother’s life, as well as his untimely death, offering a lyric and honest portrayal of the tolls of mental illness, the redemptive powers of art and familial love, and the complex workings of grief.  

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The Small Door of Your Death
Sheryl St. Germain
Autumn House Press, 2018
This honest and haunting collection of poems follows the loss of the poet’s only son to heroin addiction. St. Germain takes us through the stages of her grief and offers no false promises or simple answers. These narrative-driven poems are a compelling and compassionate look into addiction and the effect it has on a family.

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Songs of Love and Grief
A Bilingual Anthology in the Verse Forms of the Originals
Heinrich Heine
Northwestern University Press, 1995
A translation of Heinrich Heine's love poems. This bilingual edition includes an introduction by Heine scholar Jeffrey L. Sammons. The author aims to capture the meaning of the original, but preserve the poems' rhyme schemes as well as their moods.

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Starting with Goodbye
A Daughter's Memoir of Love after Loss
Lisa Romeo
University of Nevada Press, 2018
Starting with Goodbye begins with loss and ends with love, as a midlife daughter rediscovers her enigmatic father after his death. Lisa has little time for grief, but when her dead dad drops in for “conversations,” his absent presence invites Lisa to examine why the parent she had turned away from in life now holds her spellbound.

Lisa reconsiders the affluent upbringing he financed (filled with horses, lavish vacations, bulging closets), and the emotional distance that grew when he retired to Las Vegas and she remained in New Jersey where she and her husband earn moderate incomes. She also confronts death rituals, navigates new family dynamics, while living both in memory and the unfolding moment.

In this brutally honest yet compelling portrayal and tribute, Lisa searches for meaning, reconciling the Italian-American father—self-made textile manufacturer who liked newspapers, smoking, Las Vegas craps tables, and solitude—with the complex man she discovers influenced everything, from career choice to spouse.

By forging a new father-daughter “relationship,” grief is transformed to hopeful life-affirming redemption. In poignant, often lyrical prose, this powerful, honest book proves that when we dare to love the parent who challenged us most, it’s never too late.

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Walking Distance
Pilgrimage, Parenthood, Grief, and Home Repairs
David Hlavsa
Michigan State University Press, 2015
In the summer of 2000, David Hlavsa and his wife Lisa Holtby embarked on a pilgrimage. After trying for three years to conceive a child and suffering through the monthly cycle of hope and disappointment, they decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, a joint enterprise—and an act of faith—they hoped would strengthen their marriage and prepare them for parenthood.

Though walking more than 400 miles across the north of Spain turned out to be more difficult than they had anticipated, after a series of misadventures, including a brief stay in a Spanish hospital, they arrived in Santiago. Shortly after their return to Seattle, Lisa became pregnant, and the hardships of the Camino were no comparison to what followed: the stillbirth of their first son and Lisa’s harrowing second pregnancy.

Walking Distance is a moving and disarmingly funny book, a good story with a happy ending—the safe arrival of David and Lisa’s second son, Benjamin. David and Lisa get more than they bargained for, but they also get exactly what they wanted: a child, a solid marriage, and a richer life.

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The Wendys
Allison Benis White
Four Way Books, 2020
“Because it is easier to miss a stranger / with your mother’s name,” Allison Benis White instead writes about five women named Wendy as a way into the complex grief that still lingers after the death of a sixth Wendy, the author’s long-absent mother. A series of epistolary poems addressed to Wendy O. Williams becomes an occasion for the speaker to eulogize as well as reflect on the singer’s life and eventual suicide: “What kind of love is death, I’m asking?” In the section devoted to Wendy Torrance, the fictional wife from The Shining who was bludgeoned by her husband, the speaker muses on the inadequacy of language to resolve or even contain grief in the wake of trauma: “A book is a coffin. Hoarsely. A white sheet draped over the cage of being.” Ultimately, The Wendys is a book of silences and space in which tenderness and violence exist in exquisite tension. “If to speak is to die,” White writes in “Ignis Fatuus,” “I will whisper.”

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What Remains
Bringing America’s Missing Home from the Vietnam War
Sarah E. Wagner
Harvard University Press, 2019

Winner of the 2020 Victor Turner Prize in Ethnographic Writing

Nearly 1,600 Americans are still unaccounted for and presumed dead from the Vietnam War. These are the stories of those who mourn and continue to search for them.

For many families the Vietnam War remains unsettled. Nearly 1,600 Americans—and more than 300,000 Vietnamese—involved in the conflict are still unaccounted for. In What Remains, Sarah E. Wagner tells the stories of America’s missing service members and the families and communities that continue to search for them. From the scientists who work to identify the dead using bits of bone unearthed in Vietnamese jungles to the relatives who press government officials to find the remains of their loved ones, Wagner introduces us to the men and women who seek to bring the missing back home. Through their experiences she examines the ongoing toll of America’s most fraught war.

Every generation has known the uncertainties of war. Collective memorials, such as the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, testify to the many service members who never return, their fates still unresolved. But advances in forensic science have provided new and powerful tools to identify the remains of the missing, often from the merest trace—a tooth or other fragment. These new techniques have enabled military experts to recover, repatriate, identify, and return the remains of lost service members. So promising are these scientific developments that they have raised the expectations of military families hoping to locate their missing. As Wagner shows, the possibility of such homecomings compels Americans to wrestle anew with their memories, as with the weight of their loved ones’ sacrifices, and to reevaluate what it means to wage war and die on behalf of the nation.


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Widows' Words
Women Write on the Experience of Grief, the First Year, the Long Haul, and Everything in Between
nan Bauer-Maglin
Rutgers University Press, 2019
Becoming a widow is one of the most traumatic life events that a woman can experience. Yet, as this remarkable new collection reveals, each woman responds to that trauma differently. Here, forty-three widows tell their stories, in their own words.
Some were widowed young, while others were married for decades. Some cared for their late partners through long terminal illnesses, while others lost their partners suddenly. Some had male partners, while others had female partners. Yet each of these women faced the same basic dilemma: how to go on living when a part of you is gone.
Widows’ Words is arranged chronologically, starting with stories of women preparing for their partners’ deaths, followed by the experiences of recent widows still reeling from their fresh loss, and culminating in the accounts of women who lost their partners many years ago but still experience waves of grief. Their accounts deal honestly with feelings of pain, sorrow, and despair, and yet there are also powerful expressions of strength, hope, and even joy. Whether you are a widow yourself or have simply experienced loss, you will be sure to find something moving and profound in these diverse tales of mourning, remembrance, and resilience.

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With the World at Heart
Studies in the Secular Today
Thomas A. Carlson
University of Chicago Press, 2019
What is the role of love in opening and sustaining the temporal worlds we inhabit? One of the leading scholars in philosophy and the history of religious thought, Thomas A. Carlson here traces this question through Christian theology, twentieth-century phenomenological and deconstructive philosophy, and nineteenth-century individualism. Revising Augustine’s insight that when we love a place, we dwell there in the heart, Carlson also pointedly resists lines of thought that seek to transcend loss and its grief by loving all things within the realm of the eternal. Through masterful readings of Heidegger, Derrida, Marion, Nancy, Emerson, and Nietzsche, Carlson shows that the fragility and sorrow of mortal existence in its transience do not, in fact, contradict love, but instead empower love to create a world.

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A Memoir
Denice Turner
University of Nevada Press, 2015
Worthy is a memoir of loss and the search for acceptance. Raised in a Mormon household, Denice Turner strives to find her place in the Church, longing to be worthy of her mother’s love. When her mother dies in a suspicious house fire, Turner is forced to face the problems with the stories she inherited. Contemplating the price of worthiness, Turner grapples with the mystery of her mother’s death, seeking to understand her mother’s battle with chronic pain.

The story unfolds as Turner confronts a history that includes a Greek grandfather whose up-from-the-bootstraps legacy refuses to die, the ghosts of two suicidal uncles, and a Mormon shrink who claims to see her dead relatives. In the end, this is a memoir not just about loss, but about all of the fragile human bonds that are broken in pursuit of perfection.

Wry and extraordinarily candid, Worthy will appeal to readers interested in the dynamics of family heritage, Mormon doctrine, and the subtle corrosive costs of shame.

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