What we’re reading: Notes on Grief

‘Notes on Grief’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

By Trudy Lynn

A few years ago, when a relative fell terminally ill with cancer, I searched for books dealing with grief. I wanted company in my misery; I wanted to learn how to grieve from wiser teachers. This is the book I needed, although Adichie had not even thought of writing it then. She lost her beloved father in June 2020 from kidney failure in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, her father passed away in his home village in Nigeria while Adichie was stuck in the USA. It was many months before she could share space with her family and bury her beloved father. This book charts her journey from the first becoming ‘undone’, pounding her fists on the floor screaming, all the way to the bewildered state when you cannot quite accept that you can possibly be okay, be over the worst of the grieving process, when you refer to this loved one as a memory, as a part of your past.

 

I’m sure that any reader can relate to certain descriptions: ‘Is this what shock means, that the air turns to glue?’, or the glibness of condolences, or surprise at the physicality of grief.

 

On the way, she describes with an astounding rawness her experience of this particular grief. Particular yes, but I’m sure that any reader can relate to certain descriptions: ‘Is this what shock means, that the air turns to glue?’, or the glibness of condolences, or surprise at the physicality of grief. I too ‘did not know that we cry with our muscles’ before I cried and cried over loss.

Perhaps you too have been ‘filled with disbelieving astonishment that the mailman comes as usual and that people are inviting me to speak somewhere and that regular news alerts appear on my phone screen. How is it that the world keeps going, breathing in and out unchanged, while in my soul there is a permanent scattering?’ Perhaps you too have wondered what deals you would make with which higher power just to bring your loved one back. Adichie describes this and more with her usual insight, clarity and warmth. At no point does Adichie depict herself as a teacher or a wiser person from this experience which cut her to the bone. Instead, she writes her own way through her own grief, to document it, to put words to the cacophony of feelings. Notes on Grief becomes a shining tribute to a man whom you cannot help but love given the adoration with which she writes about him.

The essay has been adapted and expanded from an article originally published in the New Yorker back in September 2020. To have it in now published in book form, after this year of grief in a time of Zoom and separation, feels timely and important. It is a comfort to have a book like this ready on your shelf, for the next time grief swoops in too close.

‘Notes on Grief’ is published by 4th Estate, 96 pages, £10

Available through Outwith Books here