The Next Chapter

3 books that helped Christa Couture cope with loss

The singer-songwriter is writing a memoir about grief and healing — and she's turning to books for inspiration.
Christa Couture won a 2008 Canadian Aboriginal Achievement Award for Best Folk Acoustic Album. (Christa Couture/Facebook)

Singer-songwriter Christa Couture has used music as a way to process some of the tragic events that have happened in her life. From losing her left leg to dealing with the loss of her children, Christa has also turned to books as a way to work through her experiences. Currently, she's at work on a memoir and is fuelling her writing process by reading other accounts of loss. She joined Shelagh to share her recommendations for powerful reads about grief, loss and healing. 

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald ​
H is for Hawk is a memoir by British author Helen Macdonald. In 2014, her book won the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Book of the Year award. (Marzena Pogorzaly/Hamish Hamilton)

"What I was really drawn to in this book and identified with was the need to fill time. Someone asked me recently if I had any tips for surviving tragedy and the first thing I thought of was just to wait. You need to wait and that can be incredibly hard. The second part of waiting is to try and fill your time. Hopefully in a way that doesn't hurt yourself or others. When I say wait, I mean in those immediate days, months and years where there is just the numbness and the shock of getting through that initial time. What I see in my experiences and in others is sometimes we have weird ways that we fill our time. In H is for Hawk [Helen Macdonald] is so invested in and obsessed with taming this hawk. It's what she is holding onto. It's her way of trying to get through the initial numbness and shock. It's her way of trying to rebuild herself and it guides her through that time."

Certainty by Madeleine Thien 
Madeleine Thien's Certainty won the in Canada First Novel Award in 2007. (Babak Salari/Emblem Editions)

"It's fiction and it veered off my list of research. My list has been books about grief and loss, nonfiction and memoirs. When Madeleine's newest book, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, was in the news and getting such well deserved attention, I was looking at her older work and picked up Certainty. I was so involved in it. It felt so real to me that it seemed like nonfiction — partly because it takes place in east Vancouver where I lived for seventeen years, so the description of the location was real to me. I was very involved and convinced. The way the past and the present were happening all at once and the way memory pulls you over also felt very real. And from the title, all the character have this experience of learning to live without certainty and when you face a loss, it can feel like a loss of certainty."

Hot, Wet, and Shaking by Kaleigh Trace 
Kaleigh Trace is a disabled, queer, feminist, sex educator. She has spoken at conferences across Canada about safe and shameless sex of all kinds, for all kinds. (HZD Photography/Invisible Publishing)

"[Kaleigh Trace] is so frank. She's blunt. She is very funny. While she prefaces the book with, 'Dear reader, I hope this is worthwhile and this is why I think my story can be valuable,' she, at the end, includes a letter that she sent to her parents with the book, where she explains that she is counting on their unconditional love and why it mattered to her to be so honest about her life and sexlife — in this case, the importance of having a narrative around disability in sex because she is someone with a disability. And I'm someone with a disability. My left leg is amputated above the knee. So it really resonated with me — to get some stories about those experiences because they aren't told very much. 

What really stood out for me in her writing is that near the end she talks about the importance of difference. I really took that to heart because I also feel like in telling my story — in telling something that maybe seems a bit exceptional and has been a story that sometimes when I share I feel very othered — there's value and a lesson in being true to myself."

Christa Couture's comments have been edited and condensed.