“We have the dogs, sweetie,” Susan said, declining our invitation. A black lab and a German shepherd/husky mix would have been a lot, she worried.
In July, 90-year-old Nene contracted the coronavirus while hospitalized for high blood pressure. Released before she was tested, she unknowingly brought the virus home to Susan. By the time Nene went back into the hospital, Susan, who had been caring for Nene around the clock, had covid-19, too. Burning up with fever, Susan stuffed her thick, long brown hair into a hazmat suit stuffed with ice packs to say goodbye to her mom.
Susan, who was 63 and had no preexisting health conditions, was admitted the day after Nene passed away. For three weeks, she stayed in the hospital until she was airlifted on a ventilator and a heart/lung-support machine to a better-equipped medical facility. She spent another three weeks in the intensive care unit, mostly unconscious, where she suffered a stroke.
Because of the quarantine, we had to watch this nightmare unfold from our screens and by phone from New York. We called the hospital every three hours for six weeks. There were extreme highs and lows; nothing was predictable. On Aug. 31, Susan — who had devoted so much of her life giving to others, including to food banks and animal shelters — died.
All I could do in the aftermath of this trauma was read. I devoured stories about others who had gone through terrible times. I read about accidents survived, illnesses overcome, deaths mourned. Little else helped, except playing with Susan’s two dogs. They have since come to live with us. I only wish Susan could see my kids hugging them now.
These are the books about grief that helped me the most. With almost 240,000 deaths due to covid-19 in the United States and over 1.2 million worldwide, there might not be enough copies to go around.
Writers & Lovers, by Lily King
In this beautiful novel, an aspiring author who works as a waitress in Cambridge, Mass., tries to come to terms with the loss of her mother.
The Smallest Light in the Universe, by Sara Seager
Astrophysicist Sara Seager links the death of her husband to her lifelong search for stars and other planets in this relatable, beautiful memoir of motherhood and science.
Joy Enough, by Sarah McColl
In this artfully written debut memoir, McColl shares the story of returning home to care — and cook — for her dying mother.
Monogamy, by Sue Miller
Annie and Graham, the protagonists in Sue Miller’s latest novel, have had a long and mostly happy marriage. When Graham passes away in his sleep beside her, Annie must deal with the aftermath, discovering secrets she wishes had remain unknown.
Streeter, a journalist who worked for the Palm Beach Post, manages to find ample humor in the bleakest moments after her husband dies at 44. In this sad and funny memoir, she shares the experience of mothering her son as a new widow.
In this lovely memoir, the wife of President-elect Joe Biden opens up about the multiple losses that have deeply affected her life — Joe’s first wife and baby daughter and son Beau Biden.
Dear Edward, by Ann Napolitano
A young boy loses his parents and brother in a plane crash of which he is the sole survivor in this beautifully written novel. This portrait of childhood loss morphs into a tale of giving back, friendship and finding meaning in life.
The Goodbye Diaries: A Mother-Daughter Memoir, by Marisa Bardach Ramel and Sally Bardach
Told in alternating first-person narratives by Ramel and her mother, who died of pancreatic cancer, this story of love and loss is particularly poignant.
My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me, by Jason B. Rosenthal
An expansion of the viral “Modern Love” article that Rosenthal wrote in response to another column by his wife, author Amy Krouse Rosenthal, this sensitive story of a man losing his soul mate shows what it means to truly love.
Once More We Saw Stars, by Jayson Greene
Greene’s daughter’s death was a news event. Bricks fell from an Upper West Side building, killing the toddler and injuring her grandmother, who was watching her. Greene shares what started as his diary entries, his way of coping through the tragedy, and writes about how he mourned with his wife and slowly moved on.
No Happy Endings, by Nora McInerny
Host of the podcast “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” McInerny writes about losing her husband, Aaron, just as they were starting their lives together. Her powerful wit and sense of humor inform her other books as well: “It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too)” and “The Hot Young Widows Club: Lessons on Survival From the Front Lines of Grief.”
Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee, by Shannon Lee
Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon, shares her father’s philosophical writings and explores how the legendary actor and martial artist affected her. Lee writes beautifully about losing her brother, who was killed in an on-set accident, saying, “I knew how to go through each day, but I no longer knew how to live.”
Told in her grandmother’s voice posthumously, Kalb’s tale is simultaneously original, hilarious, sad, uplifting and invigorating.
White Hot Grief Parade, by Alexandra Silber
This poetic eulogy to a young woman’s father is written by a Broadway talent whose voice, both onstage and on the page, elicits deep emotion.
Best-selling author Mitch Albom shares his intimate feelings about adopting a child named Chika from the orphanage he runs in Haiti. Chika’s medical struggles don’t end well, but his book leaves the reader with a surge of love.
Zibby Owens is the host of award-winning podcast “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”