Books·How I Wrote It

Why Julia Cooper wrote a book about the art of grieving

The Last Word explores how grief is changing and how technology and social media impacts how we eulogize and how we mourn.
Julia Cooper is the author of The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of the Eulogy. (Twitter/Coach House Books)

Julia Cooper first started writing about grief and mourning while doing her Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. Even though she turned away from academia, the desire to explore grief stayed with her. Her first book, The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of the Eulogy, explores the grieving process through personal experience and popular culture.

In her own words, Cooper talks about how she wrote The Last Word.

Getting away from academia

"It was so lovely transitioning from academic writing to writing this book. Academia can be quite brutal. It's very sterile and very regimented. Being able to let go of that artificial structure and write about the texts and ideas I wanted to in the way that I wanted to was freeing and fun to do. It felt like letting a bunch of fresh air into my head and into my writing."

Social media eulogies

"I've been fascinated by ways people are starting to grieve more publicly on social media. It's important to me that I try to present this as a new phenomenon and try to understand it. I think that a lot of people are curious about this frenzy of micro-eulogizing that happens now when Prince or David Bowie or Leonard Cohen dies. I tried to be measured in the way that I talked about this new phenomenon. We are in the midst of it and it's going to change at the same pace as our technology is changing."

Grief has its own timeline

"One of the risks I see with the frenzy that happens when a celebrity dies is that it's a very public facing grief, but it's also very quick. The risk is that this might become a blueprint for how people think they ought to be grieving their more personal losses: for everyone to see but, more importantly, only for one or two days. And then we move on to the next news item.

"But grief actually isn't very efficient and it does take time. It could take a year, it could take five years. I think that it takes a lifetime to grieve and that the work of mourning is never done. I grieve in some capacity every day. I think I always will."

Julia Cooper's comments have been edited and condensed. 

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