The Inability to Read

I have had such an unexpected reaction to my dad’s death: I could not, for weeks, sit down to read. I could not concentrate on more than a few sentences on a page. In fact, I began to hate it, loathe it, “having to do it.” Was this grief and why was it affecting me this way?

Reading has been effortless and one of my greatest loves since I was a kid. It has been my refuge, my savior, my “figure outer” of pain or confusion and my voyage, my journey to great adventures of the mind. I grew up in a reading household; and after he retired and to the end of his life my dad read every afternoon. My mom belongs to two book clubs and they shared books and thoughts about what and who they were reading.

I never expected, even thought about, how this might affect me, but every time I picked up a book after Dad died, my thoughts went to the table he read at every afternoon, shutting himself away upstairs for a few hours. I never thought about this image all the years of his life, but it was all I could see in my mind after he died.

I have been a little scared, wondering if I would ever pick up a book again. I know that sounds terribly dramatic, but the whole experience was so unforeseen….

But last Sunday as I was sitting in the living room my eyes moved to the biography of Edith Wharton I was thrilled to find several months ago and picked it up. In the quiet of the afternoon I fell into the great life and adventures of this writer whom I have wanted to know more about. What a relief to lose track of time in a book as I was used to!

Although not a very articulate description, grief is weird and awkward. And while I have had other family members and close friends die, this has been the hardest and has affected me differently.

Time. Yes. I know….But oh, it feels so good to be reading and writing again!

Have any of you ever had a situation where you couldn’t read?

16 thoughts on “The Inability to Read

  1. Laurie, so sorry to hear about your father’s death.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on reading too. Or rather, the inability to read. I think I’ve gone through a few “dry” patches of reading myself, but not as bad as what you have been going through. Grief can certainly do many funny things to a person, as I have experienced.

    Take care!



    • Oh my, that must have been difficult.

      Reading and writing are how we express ourselves and how we take things in, make sense of the world and our feelings and thoughts. And at times “just” our refuge….


  2. Something similar happened to me earlier this year, and I just wrote about it too:

    My situation wasn’t nearly as dire as yours, but I can certainly sympathize. My condolences, Laurie. Such terrible news. I hope you’ve found the time to grief however you’ve wanted to.

    My own inability to read was legitimately terrifying, so I get you. So glad to hear you’re reading again!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Who knows how grief will affect one until it happens? My responses to my parents dying were each different, and different again from other griefs, losses and disappointments in my life, to which I had differing reactions.

    But reading — and music, particularly playing the piano — have been great consolations in my life. I read anything and everthing, whether in words or musical notation, and to one or the other I instinctively go when a hole opens up in my life. They’re a distraction, an anchor, something to occupy my brain, anything to focus the incessant chatterbox in my head, the chatterbox which drives me mental during a crisis with its inane monologue. It’s not just a cop-out, it saves my sanity.

    Having said all this, I’m glad you’ve reached this point, where the natural shock of loss has dulled a bit, but without you forgetting the essence of what has gone. Keep strong.

    Liked by 1 person

      • It’s known that exercise of any kind — walking, gardening, wild swimming (!) — can help alleviate most forms of depression, however caused, and often more help than medication or therapy. We all have to find our own way to cope, and it sounds as if you did; I’m so pleased for you.

        Liked by 1 person

        • “can help alleviate most forms of depression, however caused, and often more help than medication or therapy.

          Yes, I have been greatly helped in this regard. It’s why I walk every morning 🙂 I am lucky, there….

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw you Tweet about your father. I am so sorry to hear about your father.

    I have the same reaction to traumatic events. I cannot read for awhile. This has happened upon the death of loved ones and other misfortunes. I completely understand this. I need a fairly clear head to read.

    It is good to hear that you are reading again.

    Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Brian.

      How interesting this is a ‘thing.’ It has never happened to me before, but I can see it is fairly common after a tragedy or trauma.

      I guess I have been lucky….

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I went through a period of depression years ago where I completely lost interest in reading. It was a bizarre experience and I will always remember it. I ended up looking at art books for a while instead; my mind could rest in the images in a way they could not in the words. Slowly my “normal” wish to read came back, though I don’t remember exactly how. It was a little scary when it was gone because I felt like a part of what I had always identified as myself was absent. Who was I, then?

    Though it was hard at the time, I’m glad I went through this because it helps to remind me of how complicated and mysterious our souls and minds and selves are. We think we have everything figured out and then it all gets turned upside down…but that’s the only way we can grow, sometimes.

    I am glad you are reading and writing again and hope that this will continue to give you comfort in your grief and loss.

    Liked by 2 people

    • “because I felt like a part of what I had always identified as myself was absent. Who was I, then?”

      Yes, this resonates very well. I was beginning to fear this and wonder, too…Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I had the same experience with music. I lived and breathed music for so many years and when my dad died the music died with him. It took a good two years for it to come back but it never was the same. Then when my mom died seven years later I remember thinking as she went into hospice saying this prayer to God: “If my music is to die again, I don’t want it back, it is too hard to resurrect it.” And sure enough, it did die again, this time physically when I lost my singing voice for three years. I grieved that loss but then again, I didn’t, does that make sense? In the meantime I discovered reading and writing again for the first time since I was a kid. I fell into it with a passion, the same kind of passion with which I had fallen into music. And then something weird happened — my voice returned! And I started singing again but no longer professionally. I had to learn again how to do it just for myself and for pleasure and I do now. I joined the choir at church and I lead singing once a month at church but that’s the extent of my performing duties. I do it now strictly because I enjoy it. And every time I open my mouth to sing and hear my voice coming out clear and strong I am so filled with gratitude that God gave me back this gift of His to me.

    Grief is weird; it’s complicated; it’s capricious; it’s unpredictable. It is also a terrifying, powerful, glorious and creative force of nature that will change you — in good ways if you go with it and in bad ways if you resist it. It sounds like you’re going with it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Oh my gosh, Susan, that is some story…how affected we are at such a deep level over loss and grief. Thank you for sharing this.

      Btw, I wanted to tell you I was in a Paulist Press bookstore yesterday and saw the book River of Grace and recognized your name! I loved that. And I think I need to read it at some point….


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