Book Review: The Obituary Writer

The Obituary WriterThe Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book to be very interesting. I thought I had it figured out ahead of time, but a few twists and turns had me second guessing. I loved the observations about grief that were sprinkled throughout the book – they were written from experience for sure. I was a little confused at the end, maybe it was a bit vague to me … but I am glad I read the book. The two women were interesting, but the story of the older woman was MUCH more interesting to me than the younger woman. Glad I read it!

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The above is my review on Goodreads. I wanted to share some quotes from the book, though, that related to grief. I would note that this work of fiction is not a ‘Christian’ novel, and as such there are some elements that are not expressive of my own view of the life we are to live. It is not graphic, however. That being said, there were some expressions about grief that were interesting to me.

Grief made people guilty. Guilty for being five minutes late, for taking the wrong streetcar, for ignoring a cough or sleeping too soundly. Guilt and grief went hand in hand.

Grief and guilt often go hand in hand, but I always try to affirm that guilt is not a grieving person’s friend. The ‘what if‘ and ‘if only’ and ‘I should have‘ statements are often natural, but crushing to our spirit. They embrace the unhelpful kind of reflection that can never be resolved.

“Grief is a strange thing,” Vivien said. “There isn’t an again. Not really. It’s always there, always present. Again implies it can end and then start up anew. But it never goes away in the first place.”

The only way to never experience grief is to never love. If we experience love, then grief is a permanent experience that does not leave us. It does, however, diminish in pain when dealt with in positive and helpful ways, over time.

Grief paralyzed you. She knew this. It prevented you from getting out of bed, from moving at all. It prevented you from even taking a few steps forward.

When newly in grief, we are often surprised at how debilitating it truly is. The simplest of actions can feel complex and weighty.

The grief-stricken want to hear the names of those they’ve lost. To not say the name out loud denies that person’s existence. People seeking to comfort mourners often err this way. They lower their eyes at the sound of the dead’s name. They refuse to utter it themselves.

Perhaps one of the great fears of bereaved people is that others will forget their loved ones. A bereaved parent loves to hear the name of their child who has died. That means that someone remembers, and cares.

Grief made people awkward. It made them afraid and hesitant.

The truth of this is one of the hard experiences of grief. I understand. Conversations about grief are difficult… and yes, awkward. Sometimes answering a simple question like, “How many children do you have?” is suddenly hard to answer.

Despite all of the hugs and words of comfort, unless you have suffered loss you cannot understand the depth of it, the seemingly bottomless pit of despair that goes with grief.

At some time, if you live long enough, you will experience grief. Only then will you be able to truly empathize the feeling that goes along with loss.

She understood that grief is not neat and orderly; it does not follow any rules. Time does not heal it. Rather, time insists on passing, and as it does, grief changes but does not go away.

Yes, grief changes but does not go away. The times of surprise tears can catch us off guard. The remembrances we have that bring about difficult hours of sorrow can overcome us.

Mourners needed to tell their stories. Not once or twice, but endlessly, to whoever would listen.

When you open the newspaper and see an obituary, realize that every name represents an entire system of friends, family, loved ones, neighbors, co workers, church members, etc. When contemplating the depth of loss, it becomes a constant part of our dialog.

This was how to help a family who just lost their child. Wash the clothes. Make soup. Don’t ask them what they need. Bring them what they need. Keep them warm. Listen to them rant and cry and tell their story over and over.

So true. Just look around and see what needs to be done. Do it. Someone lost in grief will often let the little details of life go for a while, it’s just too much to think about. And listen to them. You don’t have to talk.

“It seems like a million years ago,” she added, “and it seems like yesterday. Grief is like that. It never really goes away, it just changes shape.

A great description of grief. All of these reflect the struggle that grief really is. Although grief is common, it is not commonly understood. I appreciated Ann Hood’s descriptions of grief in this novel. They help identify the reality of grief that we experience. They remind us that we are not alone. They point us toward hope.

Thanks for reading.