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The loss of a loved one can be a most painful experience, but it is not only through death that we encounter feelings of loss. Dementia, addiction, estrangement, mental illness—these are all ways that our lives can be forever altered by forces beyond our control. Sometimes we must reckon with catastrophic change from one moment to the next. Other times, change comes slowly, evolving over time as we struggle to adjust.
One thing is certain: human beings are adaptable creatures. We struggle, we evolve, we grow, we learn. We can overcome tremendous hardship and heal. In the words of R.E.M., "Everybody hurts—sometimes." The key word there is sometimes. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, even when we can't see it. In the darkest hours, we can learn to find resilience deep in our souls. Often, we just need a little help to locate it.
Here are five books to help anyone locate that light and face love and loss with hope by their side.
1. The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski
Why It's Compelling: In the first line of the book, Frank Ostaseski writes, "Life and death are a package deal. You cannot pull them apart. In Japanese Zen, the term ‘shoji' translates as ‘birth-death.' There is no separation between life and death other than a small hyphen, a thin line that connects the two." As the founder of the Zen Hospice Project and a teacher of compassionate caregiving, Ostaseski incorporates Buddhist teachings into his practice. This book is a meditation on the meaning of life, which can only be experienced fully with the consciousness of death.
Great Takeaway: "We cannot be truly alive without maintaining an awareness of death. Death is not waiting for us at the end of a long road.
Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment. She is the secret teacher, hiding in plain sight. She helps us to discover what matters most.
And the good news is that we don't have to wait until the end of our lives to realize the wisdom that death has to offer."
2. Loving Someone Who Has Dementia: How to Find Hope While Coping with Stress and Grief by Pauline Boss
Why It's Compelling: Nearly half of U.S. citizens over the age of 85 suffer from some kind of dementia and require care. This book is written for all of those affected by this epidemic—caregivers, family members, friends, neighbors, and professionals. By coaching readers on how to cope with what she calls "ambiguous loss" and the myth of closure, Dr. Boss helps caregivers manage the ongoing stress and grief that comes with losing a loved one even while they are still physically present.
Great Takeaway: "When someone you love has dementia, the task is to increase your tolerance for the stress of ambiguity. To begin doing this, work at learning how to hold two opposing views at the same time—my parent is here, and not here; my mate is no longer the person I married, but still someone I love and will care for. Don't give up on loved ones when they are no longer able to be who they were."
3. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Maté
Why It's Compelling: While treating addicts in Vancouver for over two decades, Hungarian-born physician Gabor Maté has developed a holistic approach to treating addiction. In this book, Dr. Maté presents addiction not as a medical condition but rather as the result of a complex interplay among personal history, emotional and neurological development, brain chemistry, and the drugs and behaviors of addiction. The first key to healing and wellness is a thorough and compassionate self-understanding—on both a personal and societal level.
Great Takeaway: "The painful longing in their hearts reflects something of the emptiness that may also be experienced by people with apparently happier lives. Those whom we dismiss as ‘junkies' are not creatures from a different world, only men and women mired at the extreme end of a continuum on which, here or there, all of us might well locate ourselves."
4. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander
Why It's Compelling: Dr. Eben Alexander was a highly trained neurosurgeon who didn't believe in near-death experiences. Then his brain was attacked by a rare illness. While his body lay in a coma, Alexander journeyed beyond this world and encountered a divine presence. Before he underwent his journey, he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with any belief in heaven. Today, Alexander is a doctor who believes that true health can be achieved only when we realize that God and the soul are real, and that death is not the end of personal existence, but rather a transition.
Great Takeaway: "To say that there is still a chasm between our current scientific understanding of the universe and the truth as I saw it is a considerable understatement. I still love physics and cosmology, still love studying our vast and wonderful universe. Only I now have a greatly enlarged conception of what ‘vast' and ‘wonderful' really mean.
The physical side of the universe is as a speck of dust compared to the invisible and spiritual part.
In my past view, spiritual wasn't a word that I would have employed during a scientific conversation. Now I believe it is a word that we cannot afford to leave out."
5. The Spirit Whisperer: Chronicles of a Medium by John Holland
Why It's Compelling: One of the most painful parts of losing someone close to you is that you feel like you'll never be able to communicate with them again. But what if you could? Through John Holland's practice as a psychic medium, he helps grieving loved ones reconnect with the soul of the person who died. Holland offers techniques to deal with the pain of grief on a deep soul level, connecting mind, body, and spirit. Because in the end, love never dies, it only transforms.
Great Takeaway: "We're more than just physical beings—we're also spiritual beings with unlimited potential. I truly believe that people are seeking more from life, more answers, more understanding than ever before. Why do I say this? It's because we've become a society rich with information and technology, instant messages, instant access to the media, and more and more we rely on technology to inform, and at times to influence and even decide for us. Yet you can't always find the answers from this outside hi-tech, materialistic world. More and more people are now looking inward for those all-elusive answers."
Guinevere de la Mare is a writer, editor, and the founder of Silent Book Club, a community of book lovers with chapters in more than 30 cities around the world. Her first book, I'd Rather be Reading, was published by Chronicle Books in 2017.