BOOK CLUB: 5 Touching Memoirs for The Surviving Spouse

July 9, 2021

Books are beautiful things. Their musty scent is the smell of knowledge, comfort and adventure. They allow us to escape our own reality for a while as we get lost amongst the pages of a well-written tale. Sometimes we’re transported to faraway lands where our own worries don’t exist. Other times we view the world from a totally different perspective as we’re introduced to people, places, and mindsets we might not come across in our own life.


Everyone has a story, and a great storyteller delights and challenges us with tales and truths. They have the capacity to make us laugh, cry and think. They educate us and empower us. Often, we recognize ourselves in complicated characters, and on many occasions, we’re given a lens that helps us understand multiple sides of a situation. It can be uncomfortable at times as it works as a catalyst for personal growth. Other times the words fill you up like a warm cup of coffee as we understand that our complex emotions are human and valid.


When we’re navigating painful periods in our lives, it can feel like no one understands what we’re going through. But books, they are always there for you and a great read can provide solace when you need a break from the world, which is why we want to welcome you to Book Club. This month we’re thinking of those who’ve ever lost a partner. While we know nothing will fill the hole that your loved one has left, we hope you can find some comfort in reading the experiences of those who’ve been through something similar. Keep on scrolling for our top 5 touching memoirs that tackle the complicated journey of losing a spouse.


1. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion

Didion is one of America’s most iconic writers and The Year of Magical Thinking is a raw and honest account of her attempts to make sense of her grief in the year after her husband’s sudden death.


The book’s title references the term ‘magical thinking’, which refers to a person’s belief that cataclysmic events can be averted by the power of thought. Didion captures in words what it’s like to feel the depth of incredible pain and sorrow which ultimately leads you to lose your rational thinking. Clinging on to her wishes of bringing her husband back, she refuses to get rid of his clothes and shoes, believing he’ll need them upon his return.


Didion goes on to document the role in which relationships can form an individual’s identity. She finds herself paralyzed by memories, no matter where she goes or what she does. Didion then notes how she becomes consumed with the idea of self-pity, its relationship to grief and mourning, and how those feelings are perceived by society.


2.    Love is a Mix Tape, Rob Sheffield

If you’re a music fan, you’ve probably come across Rob Sheffield’s work before as he's a veteran writer for Rolling Stones magazine.


In this memoir, he recites how rock music, the first love of his life, lead him to his second, Renee. Their love story was cut short when Renee died suddenly and tragically. Throughout the book, Sheffield uses the mixtapes they obsessively compiled for one another as a backdrop for the main arc.


His memoir is beautifully poignant while surprisingly funny. He writes about meeting his late wife and the excitement of young love as well as his loss and how he dealt with it, always referring back to the music that helped him along the way. It makes the reader both laugh and cry and conclusively understand the power of song and the connections that music makes throughout a lifetime.  


3.    Widow to Widow: Thoughtful, Practical Ideas for Rebuilding Your Life, Genevieve Davis Ginsburg

Davis Ginsburg was a marriage counselor who unexpectedly lost her husband while he was out playing tennis. She writes about feeling like a fraud. In public, it seemed like she was holding it together, but her reality was that the depth of her despair made it tough to function in her personal life.


Davis Ginsburg pens how a support group for people who’ve lost a partner helped her connect with others who could relate and understand exactly what she was going through. Then she makes the decision to leave behind her counseling practice to start her new venture ‘Widowed to Widowed Services’ – a support group for surviving spouses. They meet to discuss their grief and offer support to one another, helping them feel a sense of belonging. Throughout the book, Davis Ginsberg offers advice to fellow widows, explores the challenges of being widowed, and encourages the reader on their path to building a new life. The author says that Widow to Widow is basically “a support group between covers”.


4.    The Hot Young Widows Club, Nora McInerny

Former blogger, Nora McInerny shares her story of back-to-back losses; the first a miscarriage, shortly followed by the death of her husband and then her father. She injects salt and sass into her writing, sharing how others can survive multiple losses too.


McInerny takes her personal experiences and offers them as examples for the grieving widow, (or simply for anyone who is dealing with a significant loss in their life). She offers wise, heartfelt, and often humorous advice to those navigating a painful period in their lives, reminding us that it’s still ok to laugh despite your deep grief. She highlights her own journey and how she managed to pick up the pieces and make it through.


5.    The Widowers Notebook, Jonathan Santlofer

When Jonathan Santlofer sadly lost his wife, he took to his notebook to chronicle his grief in the following months. He filled the pages with thoughts, drawings, and grief cycles. He writes about how he desperately tried to carry on living his life as he always had, and how he found it nearly impossible to admit to anyone (or even himself) just how much he was hurting. He notes how uncomfortable he felt with his new identity as a widower and how a year after his wife's passing he found the courage to find out what exactly happened to her.


In this tender memoir, Santlofer goes on to discuss the gender inequalities that come with grief. He notes how it’s more acceptable for women to publicly grieve than it is for their male counterparts. He also highlights the different ways in which men and women are expected to grieve in Western society.

Emily Davies
Book Club

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