How Books Helped Me Heal After Loss

As a kid, and into teen years, I hadn’t read many books about death. My bookshelf was filled with adventures about first love and making new friends. No book had prepared me for the waterfall of grief I felt running through my veins when my mother told me my best friend died in a car crash. No book prepared me for a close family friend committing suicide, or my grandmother dying from cancer so suddenly. But can anything really prepare you for that?

When I was 13 and lost two important people within six months, I wanted nothing to do with books. They were my happy place, the things that brought me into a world of excitement and fun. They did absolutely nothing in helping me understand this black hole of fear I was living in — at least. Not yet.

After spending a significant portion of my life reading, it felt like an eternity had passed since I'd explored a fictional world when I finally did pick up a book a few months later. A teacher had mentioned I should try to do something I loved, but I felt guilty for living — for having fun or even smiling — so most options were out of the question. So, as an attempt to feel better, I went to a bookstore, grabbed three random books in the clearance section, and called it a day. Within a week I had read them all — none dealing with loss exactly, but a wide range of topics. One book was a sci-fi thriller with talking fridges, another included cheating spouses, and the last dealt with a group of teenagers sailing the Atlantic coast.

I didn't care what the books were about, I just needed something to hold on to. And once I started, I couldn't stop. The definition of reading changed for me. It wasn't just about reading for pleasure or living a life I knew I'd never have — it was for survival. It may sounds dramatic, but at that point, my life had come to a screeching halt and I needed something to keep me going. Books became more than an escape. Books became my home.

I'm not the first person to claim books helped me deal with personal loss, and I certainly won't be the last. Everyone has their own way of facing the mountainous range of grief that comes with losing someone, but sometimes it takes time to find the right way to deal with it. I didn't turn to books right away, but once I did, they became one of the most important things to me. Here are 8 ways books helped me heal from loss, and hopefully they can help you heal, too:

1. Books Reminded Me I Wasn't Alone

As J.K. Rowling once said, "books are like mirrors". Even if the book wasn’t directly related to loss or death, I could find similarities in characters who felt scared, lost, and confused. That alone was enough to help me feel less lonely, and during grief, that can be a major help. A lot of times, reading a new book made me realize just how many possible realities are out there, how many people deal with what I'm going through, and that I'm certainly not alone in how I feel.

2. Books Showed Me There Are So Many Things Worth Living For

When you lose someone, it can seem as if the entire idea of living seems worthless. But it didn't take long for books to show me how many beautiful things exist in the world — things that make it worth living for. At 13, I felt as though I’d seen all there was in the world, but little did I realize what real friendship was like, how true love could make my heart beat a million times a second, and how many dreams and goals I would cycle through as I got older. Books showed me the millions of paths one can take, and even though positive outcomes are hard to imagine during loss, books showed me there will always be something worth living for.

3. Books Didn't Bullsh*t The Hard Stuff

Guidance counselors, therapists, parents — they all try so hard to make things better when you lose someone. And as helpful as they can be, the human instinct is to reassure a person in pain that it will go away, that time heals all, and that you’re going to be OK. But when the world feels as if it’s going by two miles per hour and every part of you hurts, that isn’t exactly what you need to hear. What you do need is for someone to tell you the truth of how sucky this is, and that’s exactly what some characters and authors showed me. John Green’s Looking for Alaska accurately summed up how I was feeling when my friend passed away, and every time I read that book, I feel as though I heal a little bit more.

4. Books Showed Me How To Process Emotions In A Healthy Way

Books are excellent at showing characters go through multiple things at once — heartache, excitement, anxiety, inspiration, growth — and it’s all a part of the journey. Books helped me realize me how important it is to focus on each emotions, sort through them, and really try to understand why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling. And that itself is a life lesson worth learning whether you’ve experienced personal loss or not.

5. Books Taught Me That A Short Life Isn't A Bad Life

One of the things I struggled with most as a teen losing a close friend was this worry that she hadn’t been able to live out the amazing life she deserved. It took a few YA books that dealt with death and the loss of young lives that made me realize it doesn’t matter how many years you have get, it matters most in how you lived them.

6. Books Inspired Me To Learn And Grow From Loss

I remember reading certain books like Bridge to Terabithia and seeing how characters would learn lessons from personal loss, and I kept wondering when I would learn these incredible lessons. It wasn’t until I started college that I saw how drastically different I look at life compared to other people due to experiencing loss the way that I did. Books gave me a reason to actively search for good in the world, and ever since, I've been committed to taking time out of every day to stop, look, and find something to smile or be grateful about. Experiencing death takes a different toll on everyone, and while the lessons may not appear right away like they do in books, you will grow and take something positive away.

7. Books Have Never Made Me Feel Bad For Feeling Bad

This is probably the most powerful and important lesson I got out of reading a lot during my stages of grief. When years started to pass but I still felt the pain of each loss just as strongly, if not worse, my friends and family around me didn’t feel as approachable. I started to feel bad for feeling bad, as if there’s something wrong with me and I should just move on already. The thing is, books never told me there was a time limit. They told me it was OK to feel bad, that it was OK to feel happy, that it was OK to move on when it felt right to me, and not move on when it wasn’t. Books empowered me then, and they continue to do so every time I pick one up — and I can't imagine my life without them.

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