Working through grief by reading… Specifically, the James Herriot books

Ever since I was tiny and my Dad read me ‘James And The Giant Peach‘ by Roald Dahl before bed and my Grandma read me ‘Hoot‘ by Jane Hissey on a Saturday morning, I have always loved stories. Like most kids going off to primary school in the late ’90s/ early ’00s, I learnt to read via the adventures of Biff, Chip, Floppy and Kipper from the Oxford Reading Tree books.

From what I’ve been told, I learnt to read early on, though the act of writing my own stories was always my real passion. ‘9 Ballerina’s Almost Killed’ was one of my earliest works, written with unwavering intensity on a Window’s ’95 PC.

My favourite books to read are memoirs

As a child growing into a young adult, I lost my way with reading a physical storybook, much preferring to instead read magazines and later, online blogs. My favourite reading genre is memoir, particularly music memoirs, however, in 2019 I started reading fiction regularly again as a form of escapism.

I set myself a challenge on Goodreads to try and read 15 books in 2019 and I managed to read 20, which for someone who hadn’t picked a book up in years, was a decent achievement. I wasn’t however expecting to find reading quite so therapeutic and healing during what was an emotionally turbulent and grief-stricken period of my life.

Grief is a really weird emotion. It’s a cauldron of confusion, anger and sadness… Sometimes even relief

My Grandad, of whom I had grown up very close with had been ill for a long time and I knew somewhere deep inside that he wouldn’t see the year out. He sadly didn’t and we lost him at the beginning of Autumn 2019. And whilst I knew I wanted him to be at peace and no longer so poorly and gripped by a life-altering condition, I was still truly devasted when he finally did pass away. I found myself in a familiar black hole that had been all-encompassing when my other grandparents passed away when I was 20.

This was all happening as I changed jobs and altered my long-standing routine which caused havoc with my mental health. Though interestingly enough, the only thing that helped ease my grieving mind this time around was reading. In particular, reading the iconic James Herriot books.

“When all t’world goes one road, I go t’other.”

― James Herriot – All Creatures Great & Small

The Herriot stories were the only outlet that helped me recover from the bleakness of raw grieving and the confused state of mind I’d found myself in.

It sounds cliche, but the James Herriot stories really did help heal my broken heart

For anyone who hasn’t come across the Herriot books before, they were written by the original Yorkshire vet, Alfred ‘Alf’ White.

Alf White was a veterinary surgeon based in Thirsk North Yorkshire and penned his collection of stories which include: ‘All Creatures Great And Small‘, ‘All Things Bright And Beautiful‘ and ‘All Things Wise And Wonderful‘ under the pen-name James Herriot during the 1970s, though the stories are mostly set in the late 1930s and ’40s.

I love reading about anything set in Yorkshire…

As a Yorkshire lass myself, I am enamoured by any tale set in the Yorkshire Dales. One of my heroes is the late (and great) Hannah Hauxwell, a dales farmer who lived on her own and without running water or electricity on a desolate and barren hill farm for many many years before she was discovered by Yorkshire Television during the filming of Too Long A Winter in 1973. Her story is truly fascinating.

I am also inspired by the Yorkshire shepherdess Amanda Owen from the Channel 5 programme ‘Our Yorkshire farm‘ and Peter Wright from the ever-popular Yorkshire Vet programme. – As you can probably tell, there’s a bit of a theme going on here – Maybe in a past life, I was a vet?

Herriot’s books are all semi-autobiographical and follow a young vet from Glasgow getting to grips with life as a vet in rural Yorkshire. The stories are especially heart-warming, incredibly funny and really easy to devour, you can’t not warm to them.

I first picked up a copy of James Herriot’s first book ‘If only they could talk‘ the day after my Grandad passed away and I devoured the story in a matter of hours. It provided me with a quiet solace and escapism from the sadness, confusion and relief that I felt.

“They were never in a hurry: They rose when it was light, went to bed when they were tired, ate when they were hungry and seldom looked at the clock”.

– James Herriot – If Only They Could Talk

Life is SO noisy these days, I like to read books that help drown out the hustle and bustle

What I love about the Herriot stories is how they magically take the reader back to a much, much simpler time. The word we live in now is incredibly noisy and I absolutely adore how straight up and down these books are depicting life in a world without social media and the noise that comes with that.

“She poured hot water from a kettle into a large bowl and added mustard from a pound tin. ‘Here, stick your feet in this’ …I was sitting, teeth clenched, enveloped in steam, when she pushed a pint pot of tea into my hand”.

– James Herriot – If Only They Could Talk

Not all grief is the same and I appreciate that it is truly a very personal journey that you take to get through it, however, I do recommend reading something as part of your recovery process. Reading really helped me and still does to this day, whether it’s absorbing a few pages of a book before bed, or listening to an audiobook on your way to work. It all counts.

My reading goal this year is to read 25 books albeit through a variety of different genres, not just tales about vets or farmers! You can follow my progress on Goodreads, you can find my profile here.

What are some of your favourite books?

“There are great days ahead!”

– James Herriot – The Lord God Made Them All
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