Black Widow: A Book Review

As a therapist, grief is something I encounter often. Earlier this year, one of my clients, Diane, experienced a series of events that felt like something out of a soap opera. When the dust settled, she found herself widowed at the age of 51.

I support my clients through email between sessions. Earlier this week, Diane posed the following questions:

“Where are the books or literature for people who are grieving? And, is it entangled with relief and anger? Feelings of being lost, wanting to move on but being nearly buried in the rubble of what was and […] what is?  How does one process when the condolences don’t give comfort? It sits in the throat and you have to muster up a ‘thank you’ or nod of the head and a slight smile. On top of that, the feelings of guilt, shame, and disappointment that you’re not grieving in a way that is expected.  It’s not the ups and downs of a wild ride but the stretches of the long linear ride and then the bobbing up and down trying to get air. Or maybe it is the ups and downs in the fashion of Sisyphus?  Maybe there is a book for me to write in all of this?”

In my response, I first told Diane that she should indeed write a book about her story. But to answer her question about book recommendations, I immediately thought of Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books with Words Like “Journey” in the Title by Leslie Gray Streeter. Today, I will be sharing some insights that I’ve gained from this hilarious, culturally relevant, and relatable memoir about grief.

Let’s start with the title, Black Widow. Leslie Gray Streeter writes from the perspective of being a plus-size Black woman. If I were going to recommend a book to Diane, it would need to be by an author she, as a plus-size Black woman, could identify with.

“Normal is relative, depending on who you are and how you grew up.”

I tell my clients all the time that there is no such thing as “normal” because the human experience is dynamic and constantly evolving. The same goes for grief.

In Black Widow, Streeter shares how the love of her life died suddenly while they were making out.

“In the past 48 hours, my life: the one that included a husband and baby and job, and was generally awesome has become a great sparkly clusterfuck. I haven’t even figured out how to tell my not-quite-two-year-old that daddy’s not actually working late. I have not the first effing clue of how to even process this toxic cloud that has blown up my life.”

I appreciate how the author embraces the confusion and uncertainty of grief instead of providing a pithy how-to guide. She also keeps readers laughing with her candor and sense of humor. I laughed out loud as I read about how she unapologetically munched on barbeque potato chips as she toured the cemetery plots and mausoleums.

Speaking of food, the chapter titled “Grief Cake” was incredibly relatable.

“I’m in new, unstable territory eating and drinking and sobbing my way through whatever the hell is happening to me. I’ll be greeting guests and thanking them for coming over, like I’m hosting brunch, then I’ll abruptly end conversations with, ‘I’m sorry, I have to go now’ so I can run up the hall to lie down in the dark because if I don’t escape, I’m going to disintigrate or slap folks.”

Streeter also had the experience of being in the middle of the intricate process of adopting her son when her husband passed away. As a result, she had to simultaneously navigate grief, care for a toddler, and manage the fear that her husband’s death would somehow disrupt the adoption process.

As a parent of a toddler myself, I can’t imagine explaining to my daughter that her mom has died. Streeter considers the emotional impact of her husband’s death on her son.

“Well, he’s too young for therapy. He doesn’t know what’s happening. But you? You need therapy. You need to be healthy. If you’re good, he’ll be good.”

I’m glad Streeter advocates for therapy in her book. I tell people all the time that I’m a therapist who goes to therapy. I also tell them not to trust a therapist who doesn’t go to therapy. Last week, I experienced the most intense grief I’ve ever felt in my life and that event prompted me to resume therapy. Though the grief I experienced did not result from death, I found this quote from Black Widow to be extremely relatable:

“Grief, at least for me, is an eternal reminder that you cannot crawl out of your own skin. There is nowhere you can flee, nowhere you can hide, and nothing you can eat or drink that will make it not hurt. Not if you want to be a fully-functioning human being.”


I devoured Black Widow in a single day because it was well-written, funny, engaging, and relevant to what I have been experiencing. I highly recommend it.

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