Loss is a universal experience. Every human has suffered the pain of losing something precious, something that you weren’t ready to say goodbye to. But the pain of losing a child is unique. For many, it is something you never have to experience. But for those who do it can change their entire existence.
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When it comes to coping, what can you do? Or how can you help someone struggling with this grief? Delving into someone else’s world might provide the distraction and support you need. From memoirs to fictional takes, a lot of writing exists about managing this kind of grief. If going to therapy or even holding a conversation might feel like too much consider opening one of these books.
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Fiction Books About Losing a Child
Have you browsed through the fiction section of a bookstore recently? There’s much more fiction about children losing parents than vice versa. But these picks explore the journey of losing a child.
1. Baby Dust by Deanna Roy
Five women, five babies. Each woman wanted to be a mother. But instead, all of them experienced the loss of their child. Now, they are grieving together in a support group. The women are full of misconceptions about why their children died.
And they are struggling to find a way through their loss. It’s up to the group leader, Stella, to hold them together. But how can she? Stella faces a personal struggle, the reality that she can never carry a child to term. Baby Dust follows these women through the phases of loss and recovery.
2. The Good Grief Club by Monica Novak
Novak’s book is the fictional retelling of some true stories. She writes about seven women, each of them with a unique story. But all share one experience; each of them had babies who passed away.
The story is different: miscarriage, stillbirth, infant death, but the pain is the same. They’re brought together by a well-used trope: support group meetings. The Good Grief Club explores the relationships these women build as they grow closer to each other and begin healing.
3. To Linger on Hot Coals by Stephanie Paige Cole and Catherine Bayly
Walking across hot coals is a common phrase for short-lived agony. It’s an experience that few people willingly undertake. But losing a child isn’t walking on hot coals. As the title suggests, it’s lingering on them.
To Linger on Hot Coals is a collection of poems for everyone who’s lost a child. No matter when the loss occurred, these authors approach the subject with empathy.
4. Reeva: A Mother’s Story by June Steenkamp
You may not be familiar with June Steenkamp’s name. But you might recognize her daughter’s name: Reeva Steenkamp. Reeva Steenkamp was the center of a 2013 media avalanche after she was killed by her boyfriend, Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius.
The media covered the story from every possible angle. But June needed a chance to speak, away from the spotlight and rapid-fire interviews. Reeva: A Mother's Story, written as a fictional retelling, is about that loss.
5. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
Lies and loss sometimes go hand in hand. The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a novel about a woman who is pregnant with twins. Her husband helps deliver them. While the son is born appearing healthy the daughter is born with visible signs of Down syndrome. The husband sends this twin away with a nurse to be raised in an institution. He tells his wife that the daughter died during labor.
The plot of this book focuses on the aftermath of that decision. It follows the families of the two children. The biological parents are dealing with their feelings. The mother is struggling to come to terms with a perceived loss while her husband is having to hide his lie from her. All this while a second storyline unfolds about the life of the daughter. Coping with loss is a major part of this book, and those struggling with it may appreciate this story.
6. Three Minus One: Stories of Parents’ Love and Loss by Sean Hanish
Stories and artwork…both are useful tools to help cope with loss. Three Minus One is a beautiful work that explores loss and how art can help in times of grief. It features stories and artwork from parents who’ve lost their children.
It may inspire you to tell your own story. At the very least, this book is a therapeutic read.
Memoirs and Nonfiction Books About Losing a Child
These memoirs allow you to experience someone else's journey through grief. It may be the same grief you are feeling or it could be different. But the struggles and grief will be familiar to you. Even if these books don’t help with your grief, they may help you feel less isolated.
7. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
Sometimes, you think your life is figured out. McCracken’s memoir begins in an idyllic spot. She is happy and successful. In her 30s, she is a novelist who has won prizes and respect from her peers. And, she is happily living as a "spinster.
Then, she met the man who would become her husband. She got married, moved to France, and becomes pregnant. Her pregnancy goes well, until her ninth month when she learns that her baby has died. An Exact Replica focuses on her journey through that grief. McCracken insists that you’ll never really deal with grief completely, but you can slowly move on.
8. Blue Nights by Joan Didion
Didion wrote two memoirs. This one is about the aftermath of losing her husband and her daughter. Her husband died quite suddenly, at the dinner table. Her daughter passes away slowly, over twenty months.
But after losing them both, Didion finds it hard to cope. Blue Nights isn’t about transformation or learning great lessons through loss. It’s a candid acknowledgment of pain and how it affects you.
9. Poor Your Soul by Mira Ptacin
Poor Your Soul is about two women: Ptacin herself, and her mother. Her mother is coping with the loss of her adult child, Ptacin’s brother. He was killed in a drunk driving accident. Ptacin is pregnant but was told that her child had no chance of survival outside the womb.
As both women struggle with their losses, they demonstrate strength and a willingness to endure.
10. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
This memoir has won an assortment of prizes. It’s considered a classic within the genre of grief writing. The title acknowledges one of the most painful parts of grieving: magical thinking.
It’s not pleasant fairy dust. It’s the idea that if you hope for something enough, or do everything right, pain and loss can be avoided. As Didion discovers and tells us in The Year of Magical Thinking, that’s simply not true.
11. Once More We Saw Stars by Jason Greene
Freak accidents breed fear. Why? Because they’re stupid, random, and unavoidable. That’s what happened to the author’s daughter, Greta. She was sitting on a park bench with her grandmother when a brick fell from a windowsill above her. It hit her head, and Greta was rushed to the hospital. She eventually passed away.
In Once More We Saw Star Wars, Greene recalls the tragedy slowly, as he struggles to work through his grief. He eventually realizes that there’s a life beyond grief, once he can muster the strength to get there.
12. The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp
At nine months old, Rapp’s son was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs. Concerned about her son’s developmental delays, she took him to get checked out.
When the doctor saw red spots on her son’s retinas, she diagnosed him with this incurable and fatal degenerative disorder. The Still Point of the Turning World follows Rapp and her son through the diagnosis. Rapp writes honestly about parenting a terminally ill child.
13. Waves by Ingrid Chabbert and Carole Maurel
Many people struggle with infertility for years. The couple that authored Waves did, too. Then, a beautiful thing happened. They conceived.
They were ecstatic at the idea of having a biological child. But then, tragedy struck. This book is about a couple’s journey with loss, and how they moved through their grief.
14. The Other Side of Sadness by George Bonnano
Can you define mourning? Some people would say yes. It’s simple, predictable, and always heartbreaking. But according to Bonnano and his book, The Other Side of Sadness, that isn’t always true. In this carefully researched text, Bonnano posits that mourning is anything but predictable.
15. Bearing the Unbearable by Joanne Cacciatore
How long should you grieve? There’s no real answer to this question. Some people are told that they should just “get over it”, but there is no timeline for managing grief. It isn’t a straightforward process. Sometimes, you struggle for days or weeks at a time.
Then, you take a step forward. No matter how your grief unfolds, Cacciatore insists in Bearing the Unbearable that it’s OK.
Gathering a Collection
One book might not be enough. A mix of fiction and nonfiction books about child loss may help you more than reading just one genre. Researching grief blogs and psychologists’ sites for recommendations might also be helpful.
Taking the time to consider your feelings through the lens of books may be just what you need. These books may help you with your grief. Or they may just provide a welcome distraction from your grief. Either way, consider these books as helpful tools in your journey. Whatever path you walk, these books can be a reminder that you aren’t walking it alone.