Good Grief

Three books that give voice to the disorienting ordeal of losing someone.

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Marcie Hershman's "Speak to Me: Grief, Love and What Endures" is a memoir about the death of Hershman's brother, Robert, from AIDS. It's a raw book, not quite worked out completely; a series of meditations on the beauty of the human voice (thus "Speak to Me") and how that "voice" endures even after death. It is a valiant attempt to describe how weird death really is (both before and after). When someone is dying, Hershman tells us, things happen that can't be explained by reason alone.

As proof, "Speak to Me" contains one of the most amazing, and amazingly detailed, descriptions of seeing an otherworldly creature I've read. Standing in the living room of Robert's house as Robert lay near death in the bedroom, Hershman's healthy brother Cliff saw a creature moving toward Robert's door. "Reddish brown hair. Beautiful skin, very pale ... Wings, or whatever, at the shoulders, flat ... She moved with a purpose. She wasn't looking at me. The hallway wasn't wide--two strides across--I don't know how long it took reaching Rob's door, it could have lasted ten lifetimes."

For those for whom grief is an occasion to pray, the Rev. Lisa Belcher Hamilton, an Episcopal priest whose husband succumbed to cancer at age 32, has assembled "For Those We Love but See No Longer." These carefully collected prayers, psalms, and short scripture readings provide four "offices," or sets of prayers, to say at various times throughout the day. Small enough to be carried in a purse or pocket, the book can give a structure to the early, empty days when grief leaves one so much at sea.

Brave and often eloquent, the three books are a testament to the power of human grief and our desire to give that grieving a voice.

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