New York Times op-ed: Grief Stole My Love of Reading. Here’s How I Got It Back., by Tish Harrison Warren (Priest, Anglican Church; Author, Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep (2021) (Christianity Today's 2022 Book of the Year)):
I want to tell a story about a love lost and found again. In 2017, I moved across the country, lost my father to heart disease, had a miscarriage and then a complicated pregnancy that ended in another miscarriage. During this time of sorrow and doubt, I was, as I write in my book Prayer in the Night, “a priest who could not pray.” But there was something else I loved that suddenly seemed impossible: I was also a reader who could not read.
Reading had always been a sturdy part of my life. ... So in 2017, when I already felt weighed down by grief, the loss of reading was a particularly sad defeat. ... It was as if I had woken up one day with a different color of eyes or hair. What had happened? ...
I wondered if I could continue being a writer. Reading is a big part of the gig. Around three months after my dad died, someone interviewing me for a podcast asked what I was reading. I sheepishly said, “I’m not, really.” It was like a doctor admitting to not washing his or her hands.
No one told me that grief affects reading. No one told me that this was common. But apparently it is.
I mentioned this experience to my therapist recently and she told me that some find comfort in reading. But for others, in times of intense grief or stress, our brains decide to spend their energy elsewhere. This was the illiterate impulse of my poor, overtaxed limbic system.
She said it was analogous to her experience after a recent surgery. She assumed that during her recovery, laid up all day, she’d get a ton of reading done. But she read nothing at all: “I was in so much pain, I just didn’t give a crap about what was in the books.” She said her body had to focus all that energy on healing. It is the same, in seasons of grief, when it comes to our heart and souls.
I wish I’d known. As a pastor, I have seen that when someone suffers a loss, her community often offers books to help. And books on grief are indeed incredibly helpful. I’ve been helped by C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, Jerry Sittser’s A Grace Disguised, and many others. I even wrote a book about grief. But, for many of us, the best time to read books about suffering or grief is not when we are actually in deepest mourning. We need these books before we hit seasons of sorrow or well after a time of suffocating sadness, when we are starting to learn to breathe again.
Part of why I wish this experience was more widely discussed is that all the friends I talked to who have faced this said that they’d worried that their love of reading had come to a permanent end. But all of us eventually found our way back to the page. ...
I also bring this up because a similar loss of reading happened for me again, though with much less severity, when Covid hit in March 2020. ... I imagine I’m not the only one who found it harder to concentrate on a page during the past two years of Covid. As we slowly return to some semblance of normalcy, part of my “recovery” has been taking up deep reading again with a newfound joy and fervor. ... I am feasting after a fast, drinking words down deeply after a time of drought. After these blank years of stress and sorrow, page after page is just waiting to be savored.
Other New York Times op-eds by Tish Harrison Warren: