Good Grief

Thank you for your patience with my sporadic reviews–life sure does get crazy sometimes!


Grief is a difficult thing. On one hand, we’re often told to go through the stages, heal and move on. But on the other hand, it’s not clear how long those stages “should” last, and we can be pressured to feel as though the healing is complete before we’re ready.

What I love about Niwot resident Ellen Haswell’s book, “A Little Book of Words for Those Who Grieve,” is that the whole book takes you through the process, and while it’s a short read, it feels like you can take your time. With only 59 pages, the book is short, but what’s unique about it is that it’s not traditional. Every other page, there is a large letter that is a mixture of black and vine-drawings, with words beneath. Not unlike a children’s book, the words start with the letter on the same page; for example, “A/Awful!/Anguish and Agony/ANGRY!/Abandoned/Afraid/Ache/alone.”

Rhetorically, I really appreciate the mixed use of capitals and lowercase letters. I think the punctuation and alignment of the words is also really interesting because it’s so subtle, and yet it conveys so much emotion about how loss changes and transforms. 

It can be incredibly aggravating initially, and after that initial shock, you may feel scared and alone. On the “A” page, “alone” is by itself, removed from the other words.

I also really loved how the letters transform throughout reading the book. At first, they are dark, almost oppressive, and with time, they become more lively. This was something I noticed immediately, and I appreciated the thoughtfulness applied to the visual aspects of the book, in addition to the words chosen.

At the back of the book, Haswell included a beautiful author’s note that said, “Black represents grief. You will notice the ‘A’ is totally black. In the beginning grief may be all-consuming. The vine represents the emergency of life and hope and growth and learning.”

She recognizes, in the note, that grief never fully goes away, but with time and by living one’s own life, that grief may become more bearable and less overwhelming. I also love the fact that she included blank pages so that readers can reflect on their own grieving process or simply on the book itself.

Going back to Haswell’s message to readers, I appreciated the context that she gave–Haswell lost her husband in 1987 and her son soon after. She began compiling the artwork and words for the book, but the project lay dormant until the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. “The book immediately came to mind and I thought it may be time to resurrect it,” Haswell said. “In addition, I realized the book is 26 pages of words and it had been 26 years since my husband died.” Additionally, there were 26 victims in the shooting–so I found this reflective note very profound and was grateful that it was included.

Overall, I enjoyed the book very much and think that it’s  accessible for both younger and more seasoned readers. Grief, and working through it, is something that usually ends up to be a valuable life lesson. This is a beautifully written little book that I think really encapsulates the various emotions that are often experienced when moving through grief.“A Little Book of Words for Those Who Grieve” was recommended by Inkberry Books and is available for purchase there.

Happy Reading!


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