Soon after my father died, my very young son put away all the ‘sad books’. These were the picture books that choked me during the bedtime routine with their depictions of love, loss and yearning. Most brilliant amongst these was Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart And The Bottle, a poignant story about the courage required and the rewards gained if you rejoin the world and allow yourself to be vulnerable again, after that numbing jolt of loss.
In the many years that followed that early, bitter grief, I did not find a single novel, memoir or poem that offered any cure, and I guess I came to realise that loss is by its very nature incurable, but I often recognised myself in my reading, which was in itself a boon.
In Marceline Loridan-Ivens’ memoir But You Did Not Come Back, I found the love letter to a father that reflected best my youthful adoration of my own father, and the corresponding overwhelming sense of loss and longing at his absence.
Max Porter’s Grief is a Thing With Feathers, with its depiction of filthy, sweary Crow’s visitation to widower Dad and his two young boys, perfectly captured the anger, chaos and physicality of my grief.
Blue Nights, Joan Didion’s companion piece to her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, is a meditation on her relationship with her daughter and it reminded me that as grief gives way you can remember the complexity of the relationship for which you mourn. There is memory and anecdote and then honesty, and you can find a way for these three to co-exist.
A book that stayed with me over the years was another one of those picture book from the raw early days of my loss. It was Bye-Bye, Little Bird by Julia Hubery & Nancy McQuillan. This book reminded me how you can nurture, love and yet still let go – that was one tear-soaked bedtime story book.