How Reading Helped Me Cope With My Father’s Death

February 19, 2020

Being heartbroken can make you feel worthless and hopeless, losing a job leaves you desperate, but losing a loved one is probably the toughest challenge you’ll have to face in life.

I learned this a few years ago when I lost my father.

After my father’s death, my friends were there for me. While they gave me comfort through their company, they also gave me the space to process his death on my own. And, there were definitely days where I needed to be alone. After all, everyone copes with death differently.

Over time though, I found a way to come to terms with my loss. It might be an unusual way to deal with the death of a loved one, but books and reading are what helped me get through it.

Getting Charmed By Mma Ramotswe

It was during this time that I discovered Alexander McCall Smith and his The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

The Week described Smith’s books as slipping ‘into a gentler world and time. It is what reading has always meant to be—a quiet escape that leaves you refreshed and hopeful’. And that is exactly what his books did to me. I consumed his books to escape and numb out my pain.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series tells the story of Precious Ramotswe (or Mma Ramotswe), Botswana’s premier lady detective. She and her charming and loyal associate, Grace Makutsi, ‘help people with problems in their lives’. Grace helps Precious solve her cases and deal with troubles in her personal life with wisdom, good humour, and the occasional cup of tea.

What really charmed and engrossed me was the character of Precious and her intelligence and intuition, her perseverance, her keen knowledge of the human mind and heart, her sense of right and wrong, and her personality that inspired trust in nearly all those who met her. I loved the way she spoke about Africa, Botswana, and her people: ‘They are my people, my brothers and sisters. It is my duty to help them to solve the mysteries of their lives. That is what I am called to do.’

The simple language of the novels caught my eye. Even though I was grieving, the books in this series made me turn my attention to the plot and live the lives of his characters. In a way, they reminded me of my father and his love for detective fiction and humorous stories. When I was little, I would often find him resting on the couch with some detective fiction, either in the form of a novel or a comic book in his hand. He would often chuckle, catching my attention. Then, I would snuggle into his arms, ask him to tell me about the story he had just read, and we’d laugh over the humorous parts together. The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency brought back those memories.

Finding Comfort In Tom Sawyer

I looked towards the classics during this time for comfort – like a tried and tested blanket to curl up with. My choice was my all-time favourite, The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

My father had gifted me my copy of Tom Sawyer when I was only 10 years old, and it remains one of my most cherished possessions. This was one of his favourite books and he wanted to share that feeling with me.

I picked up the book to go back to the idyllic world of Tom and his friend, Huckleberry Finn. The description of their adventures was so vivid that I could easily see myself following them around in 19th century Missouri. I remembered reading the book with my father and laughing at Tom and Huck’s adventures together. I remembered him taking the time out to explain the parts of the book I didn’t understand, especially the moral and racial issues.

Tom Sawyer and my father taught me the beauty of friendship. Tom and Huck’s friendship went beyond the social conventions of the time. And this was something my father taught me as well. He would repeatedly tell me, ‘True friends don’t care about social status, money, titles. Those are not important. It is important how someone treats other people. True friends treat each other with respect.’

And, as I turned each page, I realised I was smiling more and more.

Learning Hope From Markus Zusak

A close friend recommended Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief to me and mentioned how it had given her hope during a dark time. So, I decided to read it. And I’m glad I did.

The Book Thief is a lovely read. What stood out for me was the fact that the book’s narrator was Death. But this Death has a heart and is haunted by the terrible things humans do to each other.

Zusak showed me a bleak world with hungry children, bomb attacks, book burnings and religious persecution. And yet, it was a book of hope – unbeatable, undying, hard-core hope, and it changed my life. The characters go through terrible circumstances and yet, they don’t give up. They believe in a better tomorrow. They suffer and grieve, while cherishing the tiniest bit of light that gives them hope.

The Book Thief taught me that embracing my grief is what would help me heal faster. At the same time, reading about the difficulties the characters had to cope with in Nazi Germany made me stronger. My loss was the biggest loss I had ever experienced, but I had to learn to deal with it. I couldn’t just bury it and forget about it. I had to go through it. The book’s characters suffer, but they don’t despair.

And I learned from them. There will always be difficulties in life, but we can’t lose hope of a future that will be better. What we need to remember is to let life live through us.

(Image via Psychologies)

Books As A Source Of Comfort And Inspiration

I slowly started feeling better while reading these books. I opened up and spoke about my grief. I shared stories of my father with others close to him. I remembered all our adventures together. I remembered how we discussed the books we had read and how I would often make fun of the detective stories he loved to read. He, on the other hand, would tell me that I read too many serious books and how I should add a bit of fun to my reading. So, I started reading detective stories and humorous literature in his memory, and they are now some of my favourite reads.

My journey of coping with grief didn’t involve any self-help books since they’d never appealed to me. Instead, I opted for books that were joyful, positive, or at least carried a message of hope for a better tomorrow. And they worked beautifully for me.

Ana Vidosavljevic is from Serbia and currently living in Indonesia. She is a teacher, international relations specialist, writer, translator, interpreter, surfer and mom-to-be. She has her work published or forthcoming in many magazines and anthologies. Her collection of short stories Mermaids will be published by Adelaide Books in September 2019, and a memoir Flower Thieves will be published by the same publishing house in April 2020.

Read her articles here.