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How to Honor an Avid Reader After an Untimely Death

Build bookshelves as a lasting tribute

tall floor to ceiling bookshelves in tribute

Ben and Grace Einstein

I’m an avid reader and book lover. I’ve been dreaming of floor to ceiling bookshelves all across the front bedroom wall, a 12-foot span by 8 feet high, with the potential for showcasing hundreds of books. My husband is a retired contractor and collector of garden books, so we knew we’d both enjoy all that linear space for book display. 

Naturally, my ears perked up when I heard a story announced on Good Morning America. October 25th, about a man building a bookcase for his wife. 

A Sadder Story Than I Expected

Sadly, the story was not what I had envisioned. A woman named Grace was a voracious reader. When she and her husband moved into their home, she spied the striking, super-tall, empty wall — a perfect place for floor-to-ceiling bookcases complete with a rolling library ladder. (What book aficionado doesn’t dream of a rolling library ladder?) 

But the bookshelves never got built. Grace was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. Despite chemo and a dignified battle against the disease, Grace died way too soon. As a way to honor her memory — and to do something constructive to battle the intense grief — her husband, Ben, constructed an architectural masterpiece. He built, from the floor to the very high ceiling, row after row of shelves that rise like a stairway to heaven. 

It’s an architectural statement of love and loss. A blending of opposites — grief and glory intertwined. 

The Power of Social Media and the Goodness of People

Ben Einstein posted the image of the finished bookcases to a DIY home construction group on Reddit he belonged to. People felt his pain. They understood his motivation to build and his effort to turn grief into constructive action. 

The story of how he was honoring his deceased wife went viral.

People saw Ben’s posting and took it to heart. One woman wrote back saying that her father had died of cancer this summer, and she wanted to send one of his favorite books to put on the shelves. 

She was not the only one. Before long, people everywhere were sending books to honor Grace, so many that the local post office was overwhelmed with the 10–20 packages of books arriving each day. 

The goodness of people lit up a dark and terrible time for Ben.

Books Matter

As a book lover, I totally get it. Books are tied into our life experiences, our emotions, and our perspectives. Every book we read becomes a little part of us, and if we love it, something of ourselves is imprinted in that book. 

And it totally makes sense that building something visible and permanent would help the grieving process. When my husband’s former wife died at the age of 32 from breast cancer, he spent a year designing and building the beautiful, giant sunroom that she had envisioned in their future yet never gotten to see. 

Building something is a constructive way to move through a period of mourning. As Ben Einstein said, 

“It gave me something to focus on, and it gave me a way to honor her.” 

What better tribute to honor someone who loved to read than books and shelves? 

It’s the Taj Mahal of a young American man to his deceased wife.

Taj Mahal with turquoise pool


If you like observations of human nature, you'll appreciate Heartfelt Stories.

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