14 Popular Books About Losing a Parent or Grandparent

Updated

Losing a parent or grandparent at any age can be a very difficult experience. While overcoming our sorrow when we lose someone so close to us may require turning to others for support, many have found that books about the death of a parent or grandparent can also be very helpful in these circumstances.

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Books about a grandparent or parent’s death can help us learn new methods of coping with our feelings. Perhaps more importantly, they remind us that others can relate to our pain. Reading about others who have gone through this experience can make overcoming it somewhat easier.

If you’re looking for an ideal book about losing a parent or grandparent, consider these titles. They’re among the most moving books addressing this sensitive topic.

Books About Losing a Parent as a Child

Again, losing a parent is extremely painful no matter your age. However, children can be particularly sensitive to the pain of such a loss. These books touch on that uniquely challenging experience:

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

This modern classic follows a young boy named Oskar who roams New York City to solve a mystery. This mission is particularly meaningful for him, as the mystery relates to his father, who died in the 9/11 attacks. Author Jonathan Safran Foer explores an entire city struggling with grief while also focusing on the personal grief of one boy struggling to move on after losing a beloved parent.

2. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

This novel tells the story of Elsa, a young girl who loses her true best friend when her grandmother dies. However, when she finds a box full of letters her grandmother wrote apologizing to those she had hurt in life, Elsa sets off on a journey to deliver the letters. Her experiences help her cope with her grief while also learning more about the woman who played such an important role in her childhood.

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Books About Losing a Parent to Cancer

Watching a parent succumb to cancer is immensely heart-wrenching, but as these books remind us, we can find healthy ways of coping with this type of loss.

3. What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons

In this semi-autobiographical novel, author Zinzi Clemmons, who lost her mother to cancer, explores how it’s simultaneously possible to move on from a parent’s death while also acknowledging that in some ways, losing a parent to cancer is an experience that will impact someone for the rest of their life.

4. The Long Goodbye: A Memoir by Meghan O’Rourke

Meghan O’Rourke’s memoir describes how struggling with the pain of losing a parent to cancer can be even more difficult than it already is when you live in a society that has (at least to some extent) done away with many traditional long-term mourning rituals.

5. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is a somewhat unique entry for this list. It doesn’t dwell too long on the experience of losing a parent to cancer.

Instead, at the start of this memoir, Dave Eggers describes how he and his siblings lost their father to lung cancer, only to lose their mother to stomach cancer a month later. Eggers spends the rest of the book exploring how he and his siblings had to suddenly adjust to their new circumstances, with Eggers taking on the responsibility of caring for his youngest brother.

This is a deeply moving exploration of the way losing a parent to cancer changes and impacts our lives for years after their passing.

Books About Losing a Parent to Addiction

Like seeing a parent die of cancer, watching helplessly as a parent’s addiction claims their identity and life is often devastating. These books don’t shy away from that reality.

6. The Liars’ Club: A Memoir by Mary Karr

Losing a parent to addiction doesn’t necessarily happen all at once. In this memoir, Mary Karr describes growing up with an alcoholic father and a mother who suffered from severe mental health problems. Eventually, her father’s drinking contributes to health issues that result in a stroke, forcing Karr to return to her childhood home to help care for a parent she in many ways already lost years earlier.

7. The Shining by Stephen King

Don’t dismiss it just because it’s a popular horror novel! In this classic, which King would later realize was about his own alcoholism (although he didn’t know it when he was writing it), King uses horror tropes to express the terror a young child experiences as they watch a parent spiral back into their addictions. Describing how a child feels when their parent is struggling with addiction by depicting the experience as a nightmare allows King to touch a nerve that some books on this topic can’t reach.

Religious Books About Losing a Parent

Religion and spirituality often provide comfort to those who’ve lost parents or grandparents. These are just a couple of books illustrating how:

8. The Ugly Menorah by Marissa Moss

The Ugly Menorah is a children’s book about the loss of a grandparent that touches on the importance and value of remembering those we’ve lost from the perspective of Judaism.

9. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss by Gerald Lawson Sittser

This isn’t just a book about losing a parent. When an accident claimed the lives of Gerald Sittser’s mother, wife, and daughter, grief naturally overwhelmed him. However, by turning to his faith, he found a way to move on from such an unimaginable tragedy. 

Children’s Books About Losing a Parent

Helping a child manage their pain after losing a parent is never easy, but as these books prove, it is possible. 

10. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

Author Patrice Karst says she got the idea for this book when her son was upset about the fact that she had to go to work when he had to go to preschool. She comforted him by explaining that the love they have for each other creates an “invisible string” that keeps them connected no matter how far apart they are.

Since the book’s publication, many have used it to comfort children who’ve lost parents by explaining that they still share a connection, even if they can’t see each other anymore.

11. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The death of a grandparent is just one of many difficult subjects Sherman Alexie explores in this semi-autobiographical YA novel that’s equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and grab-the-tissues devastating. During the passages of the novel that touch on the death of the protagonist’s grandmother, Alexie sympathetically reminds us that adults can mourn the loss of parents and grandparents just as deeply as children can.

12. The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

The protagonist of this YA novel loses her parents in two ways. She loses her mother and sister in a tragic accident. In the aftermath, to some degree, she loses her father, who is struggling with grief to such an extent that he can’t offer the support his daughter needs. Despite these challenges, Coyote Sunrise finds the strength within herself to overcome some of life’s greatest pains.

Other Novels About Losing a Parent

The following are two more general books about the loss of a parent that are worthy of your attention.

13. Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

This recent release is a refreshingly honest book that blends both sadness and humor to explore, among other topics, the experience of losing a parent to Alzheimer’s. It also addresses the fact that coming to terms with our parents’ mortality can in some ways help us discover our true selves.

14. Always Too Soon by Allison Gilbert

Always Too Soon isn’t technically a novel. However, it absolutely deserves a spot on any list of books about losing a parent thanks to the wide range of perspectives it offers.

In this book, author Allison Gilbert offers a collection of conversations and stories from others (some famous figures, some not) who’ve lost parents. Their various insights can help someone mourning a parent learn new ways to cope with death while also appreciating that they’re not alone in their grief.

Books About Losing a Parent or Grandparent: Words of Comfort

No book can replace a lost parent or grandparent. However, books such as these can certainly offer valuable guidance at times when we most need it.

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