riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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The Solidarity of Widows

This past weekend M came to visit. Some of you may recall M from last year (I wrote about her here and here). M and I were friends before she lost her husband, but since then we’ve grown much closer. We speak on the phone every week or two. I’ve been to visit her once, and now she’s been to visit me. On her last day here, we went for a hike with L, another widow friend of mine from my old job. Then the three of us went to brunch. It was a lovely time, full of laughter and good food. Though M and L had just met, they got along like old friends.

There’s something to be said for the solidarity amongst widows. M and I discussed it on the ride to the airport. When you’re a widow, it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, what your cultural or ethnic background is, if you’re rich or poor — you can usually relate to another widow.

It’s more than just sharing a unique and powerful loss. We all come to the loss in different ways, some by illness, prolonged or sudden, others by freak accidents or crimes. Still others by suicide. We share the loss, but we also share what happens after that. We know about the guilt: caregiving decisions, life decisions, the “shoulda-coulda-wouldas”.

We know about the madness of grief, the swirling of thoughts, the sleepless nights, the constant questioning and unsatisfying answers. We know about the crazy things people say to us, the financial issues, the burden and emotional complexity of dealing with all of our loved one’s things.

We recognize and respect (and never question) widows who still wear their wedding rings, even if we don’t choose to do so ourselves. The same with widows who decide not to date, and those who do. We don’t judge each other like others so often judge us.

We understand how life changes for a widow, how it’s never ever the same. Even if a widow remarries, she will never see her new husband in the same way she saw the one she lost. It’s not a matter of “better” or “worse” — it’s an awareness that will permeate her existence forever. An awareness that might make her less prone to anger, irritability, pettiness, or might prompt her to quit her job and pursue her dreams, or to help others in need.

Her outlook on life and her priorities change. She might cut off certain people in her life simply because they do nothing for her anymore. Though grief makes her foggy, certain aspects of life become crystal clear.

No matter how young she is, she will be more mature.

M said to me this weekend, “That girl is gone. And she’s never coming back.”

I told M that I see loss like a natural disaster of the heart. Hurricanes, tornados, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis… are all an unfortunate part of nature. They strike randomly, leave great devastation in their wake and, in some cases, actually change the landscape of the earth. But afterwards, life springs anew. People rebuild. Plants grow. Animals return. Everyone adapts to the new reality, while never forgetting the past.

And widows are their own unique group of survivors.

It pains me that M had to endure what she did at such a young age (more than ten years younger than I am). We still cry over the men we can no longer hold dear, the mistakes we feel we made, all of the wasted time and silly arguments. If only we knew then what we know now. But we can both agree that there’s no going back to what was. There is only now.

There is only now.


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Demeter and The Seasons of Grief

The thing about grief that most people don’t understand (unless they’ve experienced it) is that it never goes away. Time allows new experiences and relationships to naturally fall over old ones, causing grief to recede deeper and deeper within. But it never leaves us completely. And like with events that happen in nature that cause the earth’s inner core to come bubbling to the surface, so do things happen in our emotional lives that trigger grief – however old it may be – to the surface.

The irony here is that I’m constantly underestimating grief and being caught by surprise.

This past May 3 marked the 3rd anniversary of my husband’s death. It was also the first year that I didn’t do anything specific. The first year, I honored the day by going to Joshua Tree National Park, a place where we’d shared many good times. The second year, I went to the mountains where we’d dispersed his ashes. Both times I took the day off from work.

This year May 3 was on a Saturday. I told myself I wasn’t a fan of this day and therefore wasn’t going to give it any energy. I went to the horse races with my good friend T. Only at the end of the day did I remind T that it was May 3rd, at which point she apologized profusely for not remembering.

“I know yesterday was tough for you,” she texted me the next day “We should have done something in Kaz’s honor. ”

“I’m not a fan of May 3,” I responded. “I rather be out with you and not thinking about it too much.”

A week later I fell into a deep depression, deeper than I’d felt in months. I didn’t discuss it on the blog in part because I’d just written about not complaining. Plus I wasn’t sure if it was directly related to the 3rd anniversary because it didn’t feel like typical grief.

Though I was crying and moping about, I wasn’t always thinking specifically of Kaz. Rather, I was thinking about life in general. I wrote to my sister: “Generally feeling like my life has amounted to nothing. No career, no kids, no husband. Lots of ideas and unfinished work, but nothing major to speak of. It’s killing me that I’m still an assistant at 43, and have been for the past 4 years. Filmmaking feels like a far off distant memory, something I used to love and now…”

I was also feeling frustrated because I couldn’t get anyone on the phone. It might be my imagination but it seems like phone calls are getting rarer and rarer. Letters are almost extinct. Are we getting more disconnected, or is everyone simply busy with their own families and lives? Either way, not being able to talk to someone simply drove home the fact that I am alone. I was missing my mother and my husband, and nothing seemed to have any purpose.

One friend I finally managed to get on the phone asked me what had changed in the last few weeks to bring on this bad mood. I admitted that I had fallen off my diet wagon, and this seemed to have a domino effect on the rest of my life. Also, the 3rd anniversary had came and went but with little fanfare

“Grief is a sneaky, wandering thing,” my therapist told me later. Then she reminded me of the Demeter and Persiphone myth.

In ancient Greek religion and myth, Demeter was goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth.

Demeter’s virgin daughter Persephone was abducted to the underworld by Hades. Demeter searched for her ceaselessly, preoccupied with her loss and her grief. The seasons halted; living things ceased their growth, then began to die. Faced with the extinction of all life on earth, Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to the underworld to bring Persephone back. Hades agreed to release her, but gave her a pomegranate. When she ate the pomegranate seeds, she was bound to him for one third of the year… There are several variations on the basic myth… In all versions, Persephone’s time in the underworld corresponds with the unfruitful seasons of the ancient Greek calendar, and her return to the upper world with springtime. [Wikipedia]

I related to so many aspects of this story: the wandering, searching, preoccupied phase of grief; the madness that comes with no longer being able to place the lost loved one; the unfruitfulness of loss vs. the harvest and fertility of love; the seasons of grief.

What pulled me out of the slump was (once again) writing. I had to deliver a personal essay by the end of the week, and was forced to concentrate on that. The topic of the essay was the Memorial Day weekend a few weeks after Kaz died when two childhood friends came to visit me.

Though it was a bittersweet memory, writing about it felt good. I suppose writing is my fruitfulness.

"Persephone and Demeter" by Susan Seddon-Boulet

“Persephone and Demeter” by Susan Seddon-Boulet

 

 


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The Sweet Gift of Grief

Recently, I have felt a growing distance from my grief, and it’s been bumming me out. It’s as if I’m losing the sense of being Kaz’s widow. Even more disconcerting, of being his wife. The healing seems to have replaced something intangible in addition to the grief. Or perhaps it has become a thing in itself, like a scar that replaces a wound and then becomes a permanent fixture of the body.

I’ve actually found myself yearning for the earlier days of grief. The days when it felt like my heart was splitting in two, every waking moment an excruciating reminder of his permanent absence. Yet I could still feel and remember him vividly, and we were still together, still part of a union. So there was sweetness mixed in with the pain. Now the pain has subsided taking the sweetness with it, and I’m left feeling empty, longing for one or the other, or both.

Then three triggers happened this weekend.

The first – a dear friend got upset with me about something on Friday night (details irrelevant to this post). When I finally left work at 7:45pm, I drove home knowing this friend was disappointed in me and basically feeling like shit. I remembered similar times before when I had come home upset and Kaz had put things in perspective.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” he would have told me Friday night. “You apologized. There’s nothing more you can do.” He would have diverted my attention to the positive. “Hey, at least today was pay-day, and tomorrow Angelina is coming over, and Sunday is football, and you’re going to cook us dinner.” At that point, I would have nudged him and laughed.

Angelina is the new cleaning lady I’ve hired to come every other week. She is reasonably priced and sorely needed, but still a splurge. The last time I had a cleaning lady was when Kaz was sick. One of my former bosses had very generously donated several months of cleaning service. Kaz immediately dubbed these nice ladies “the help” (a year before the film came out), and mumbled about them moving his stuff around. But we both appreciated them very much. 

This new lady, Angelina, did a wonderful job. She also emanated a certain energy that I haven’t felt in a long time. It’s comforting to know she’ll be back every two weeks, and not just because of the cleanliness she leaves behind.

The second trigger was a dream on Saturday night, in which I visited Kaz in a hospital. I hate to see him sick in my dreams, but it was still good to see him in general.  We spent the time lying on the grass in the shade of a large tree outside his hospital room, just listening to the wind rustling through the leaves. 

Sunday I slept in and captured this classic moment:

Ruby in the morning

Then it was off to Agility class with Ruby, where she got to do the course off-leash for the first time, and see her pal Louie, the grey poodle I wrote about here. They’re both in Obedience and Agility together and quite an item now, play-wrestling before and after class to everyone’s amusement. Louie shows his affection by chewing on Ruby’s ears, and she shows hers by nibbling on his ankles. “He has a thing for female pitbulls,” Louie’s dad told me with a smile.

The third trigger happened when we stopped to look at motorcycles at a Honda dealership on the way home. “My late husband owned an RC51,” I told the rep as he showed me around. I could almost feel Kaz walking around with us.

Not surprisingly, I cried harder this weekend than I have in the past several months. But it was a good cry, familiar and somewhat comforting. I had been missing my man, and this weekend he came back briefly. His sweet presence in turn triggered the painful grief. But despite – or perhaps because of – the tears, I felt grateful.


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Even Lava Cools Eventually

Photo credit: Nick Selway and CJ Kale (Caters News Agency)

Photo credit: Nick Selway and CJ Kale (Caters News Agency)

Last night I had this image of grief as a molten, bubbling, red-hot river of volcanic lava, unceremoniously destroying everything in its path and reshaping the landscape underneath. The image came to me as I was eating dinner and thinking about my relationship to food, and specifically the kitchen, in the last few years.

In my single days I used to cook for myself and have people over for dinner on a regular basis. When Kaz and I started dating, I cooked many meals (as any woman who’s good in the kitchen would). Cooking for him felt different than cooking for friends. It felt romantic and at the same time a bit old-fashioned. I would often think of my mother, who did most of the cooking in our family and was great at it. Kaz was an old school type of man. He loved both eating the food and watching me prepare it. Part of our courtship happened in the kitchen.

Once he became sick, he asked me to be in charge of his nutrition. I remember him coming home one night with some Cancer cookbooks and handing them to me. My job as “resident cook” had become official, and I took it very seriously making shitaki mushroom burgers, sweet potato soup, ginger lemonade iced tea, homemade granola with flaxseed, blueberry pancakes, apple pie, carrot cake, oatmeal cookies, white chocolate raspberry cheesecake, and more.

One of the more painful aspects of his illness was how it affected his appetite and ability to taste things. At a certain point, he started asking me to order out instead of spending time in the kitchen away from him. Towards the end his appetite became a barometer of how he was feeling, of how close the end really was. I tried every which way to get him to keep eating, even though the hospice literature said not to. I couldn’t help it. Eating was a sign of life.

After he died, I lost my own appetite for a while. Food was just this stuff that I put into my mouth. There was no real pleasure in it. Then the appetite came back, but not the joy of cooking. I actually threw out most of the pots and pans (the cheap non-stick kind), thinking I would get new ones (iron or stainless steel). The trouble is I never got around to it, which left me with one small pot, a baking dish, and a cookie sheet.

Even if I had pots and pans, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I had lost the motivation, the energy. Cooking seemed pointless. Iwould only buy pre-made food, became an expert at heating things up, and would eat while watching television in the living room. I used to wonder if I would ever enjoy cooking or care about my own nutrition again.

Lately, I’ve started caring. Last week I made my granola for the first time. Some of it burned (the smoke detector went off), but not all of it. I also forgot how much granola the recipe produces. I now have a bucket’s worth of granola to eat for the next few months.

Last night I cooked myself an entire meal of baked tilapia with pine nuts, lentils, and green bean salad. The smoke detector went off again, but the fish didn’t burn. I sat down to eat at the dining room table complete with one lit candle and a glass of water (second week night without alcohol).  Instead of wolfing the food down, I ate slowly and savored each bite. I haven’t tasted my own cooking in over two years. It felt like being home again.

Cooking a meal and sitting down to eat it is something most people probably do on a daily basis without even thinking about it. For me, it was a moment, a sign of healing. I’m a long way off from having dinner parties, and I have yet to get through a meal without the smoke detector going off, but I trust these things will happen in time. Hopefully, faster than it takes lava to cool.


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Keepin’ It Real

Did you see today’s Daily Prompt? It asks: To what extent is your blog a place for your own self-expression and creativity vs. a site designed to attract readers? If sticking to certain topics and types of posts meant your readership would triple, would you do it? I have described my blog before as a hybrid between personal expression and helpful (or at least, interesting) information. Sometimes I feel like I’m veering too much in one direction or like I should be sticking to one topic instead of bouncing all around.

After the Freshly Pressed post I wondered if I should post about grief more because that seemed to resonate with A LOT of people. Since then I’ve wondered if all the people who followed the blog because of that post have been like, Why is she talking about her puppy and job woes? Get back to the grief posts, lady!

The truth is the last couple of weeks I’ve been really emotional, not just because of the interview, not just because of my job and everything else, but because this Friday, May 3, is the two-year anniversary of Kaz’s passing. If I was only interested in attracting readers I suppose I would be mining this ‘opportunity’ but instead I’ve been posting about everything but and took one week off.

Grief is weird. Sometimes we want to face it head on, delve into it like sinking into a warm bath or free falling off the emotional cliff. Other times, we want to avoid it. If I’m honest, this time around I’ve been feeling the latter. I’ve been more focused on the future. I’m impatient to make something of my life. I feel like time is running out, not in a doomsday way but like an I’m-not-getting-any-younger kind of way.

The grief is still there, like an itch that won’t go away. Around anniversaries like this, it’s impossible to escape. Because it’s not just me, it’s all of his family and friends, their texts, emails, calls and facebook posts. Even if I wanted to bury my head in the sand, I can’t. Loss is all around me and I’m trying to navigate it with blinders on. I feel like I haven’t been honoring this impending anniversary to some extent. I’ve been aware of it for weeks but I haven’t been giving it the weight it deserves. I keep thinking I’m past certain things but clearly I’m not. Which brings me back to the blog.

In the About page I say that the blog will be reflective of my life, it’s not just about one thing and will evolve over time. It is certainely not just about grief. I guess you could say it’s about recovering from grief, about trying to pull oneself out of the muck and live again, about trying to reacclimate to the world and reestablish one’s identity after being part of an US, and about persuing one’s dreams and not giving up.

It may not be a straight line, this blog. It may be more like a winding road that has dips and peaks, straight parts and curves, but  is slowly, ever so gradually on an incline. One day maybe we’ll reach the peak and we’ll look back at the road traveled and say, ah, I get it now.


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The Ties That Bind

Well, that was exciting. In the past 24 hours the blog has had over 1400 views, almost 100 new comments, close to 80 new followers, all from 20 different countries. I am humbled, grateful and slightly overwhelmed to say the least. Besides being a boost of confidence, these numbers feel like a cosmic reminder, of sorts, that Grief and its sister Love strike a universal chord. I am stating the obvious, of course, but for a reason.

All my life I have been drawn to work which encourages a feeling of universality, of oneness. This is why I fell in love with cinema, because of its ability to bring people together. Movies, music, literature, paintings, the arts in general, all have this ability to make us feel and experience something deeper than our differences. In the past few years, I’ve struggled to regain that inspiration and motivation, but the past 24 hours helped.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by, especially those who left comments. While I’m sorry that we have to deal with loss, it is a part of life as they say. We may come to experience it in different ways and from different perspectives, but the underlying theme is that people everywhere, regardless of race, religion, nationality, politics, sexual orientation, etc., have experienced love and loss on some level. We might not speak the same language or have anything in common, but on these very deep and personal matters we can relate to one another.

My last thought on the Freshly Pressed experience is actually a sentence I once used at the end of a movie trailer: Sometiemes the ties of humanity can bind even the worst of enemies.

Tomorrow it’s back to Industry Friday and thoughts on television writing.


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Public vs Private Grief

On the way to Joshua Tree this past weekend I told the two other people in the vehicle (a male/female couple) about this blog. Both were old friends of my late husband Kaz. Both were very helpful to us when he was sick. And both have lost one parent to illness, so they know about loss and grief. Perhaps that’s why I felt safe mentioning the blog.

Though I’m gradually becoming bolder about it, I’m still a little shy about the blog. Shy when it comes to people I know. I think because this is where I still talk about my grief, about Kaz, and our time together. It feels like most of our friends and family have moved on, not in a bad way – that’s what you’re supposed to do – but in a way that makes me feel guilty about “going there” around them. I often get the urge to bring him up with people who knew him, but then think to myself, Why go back? Why dredge up old memories and make everyone feel bad? What’s the point?

There have been times when I couldn’t help but get emotional, like at the Clutch show a few weeks ago. There was another moment back in February, before returning to L.A. from Vermont, when I was having drinks in Brooklyn with Kaz’s best friend and my brother-in-law. The former was explaining to the latter how he and Kaz had met and become friends. As he told the story, which I had heard before, I started silently crying. I’m not sure my brother-in-law noticed but the best friend did. After a few minutes, I excused myself to the freezing outside in order to regain my composure. I felt guilty for crying in front of him, for ruining the moment by making it sad instead of joyful.

I wish it were easier to show emotions and talk about grief, death and the ones we’ve lost. But I’m also not sure it’s right to burden people with my emotions. I sense that people don’t want to talk about these things, don’t want to dwell or be reminded of their own hurt. I feel both responsible towards them and still responsible to Kaz for putting up a good front, as it were.

I felt this much stronger in the first few months after he died, like it was my duty to publicly represent him and us with dignity and poise. We had just recently been married so the feeling of US and this new role of both ‘wife’ and ‘widow’ brought up all kinds of associations. Images of Jackie Kennedy and Coretta Scott King flashed in my mind’s eye and I told myself that, given a choice, he would prefer me to be more like them and less like the widow who throws herself onto the casket as it’s lowered into the ground.

I wasn’t perfect. I did have moments. But for the most part I handled myself with an almost stoic resolve, which of course made people think I was much stronger and more together than I actually was.

Nowadays, it’s more difficult to keep that up, or perhaps I care less about keeping it up. So, when I get emotional in front of certain friends it’s like breaking precedent. And perhaps even more stange because it’s been almost two years.

This period in particular, between March 24th (the day he had the seizures) and May 3rd (the day he died) are the toughest of the year. Last year it felt like I was re-living every painful day of those 6 weeks. This year the painful memories aren’t quite as vivid. But I’m missing him something terrible. And trying not to feel guilty about divulging that even here, lest I bring you down as well (which is not my intention).


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A Reading List for Grief (Part 3 of 3)

Wrapping up the Reading List, here are some books related to grief and/or caregiving which have been recommended to me but I haven’t read yet (all available on amazon.com):

The Truth About Death, Poems by Grace Mattern

Bitter and Sweet; A Family’s Journey with Cancer by Darcy Thiel (a guest blogger on this blog!)

Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude – Jim Perlman (Editor), Deborah Cooper (Editor), Mara Hart (Editor), Pamela Mittlefehldt (editor)

Nearing Death Awareness (A Guide to the Language, Visions, and Dreams of the Dying) by Mary Anne Sanders

Death and the Art of Dying by Bokar Rinpoche

I am currently reading Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (translation by Lydia Davis) and Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph. More about both in a later post.

Please feel free to keep sending recommendations or any thoughts you might have on any of the books mentioned.

Finally, here are some quotes which resonated with me from two books on Part 1’s list. I’ll refer to more quotes in other posts. Enjoy.

From MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Viktor E. Frankl:

“… Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.”

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

“… Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into triumph.”

From THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho:

“Sometimes, there’s just no way to hold back the river.”

“Everything on earth is being continuously transformed, because the earth is alive… and it has a soul. We are part of that soul, so we rarely recognize that it is working for us.”

“There is only one way to learn… through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.”

“When something evolves, everything around that thing evolves as well.”

“Death doesn’t change anything.”

“’You were always a good man,’ the angel said to him. ‘You lived your life in a loving way, and died with dignity. I can now grant you any wish you desire.’”


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A Reading List for Grief (Part 2 of 3)

I am sharing the books that I read after losing my husband, in the order that I read them, with a brief explanation of how they affected me. They’re not necessarily for everyone but they might interest you. Part Two compromises the books I read from six months onward. As before, the first line of the book is under each title.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”

I picked up this book shortly after befriending the author’s son around my birthday in October 2011. It is his father’s most recent book but by no means his most famous. That would be his earlier works Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude, which collectively earned Gabriel Garcia Marquez the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982. The plot of Memories of My Melancholy Whores is brilliantly encapsulated in the first sentence. But it’s about something else, namely the fear of death and the re-awakening of the heart. As the narrator, a retired journalist, tries to find his virgin, he reflects on his ninety years on earth, how he and the world have changed, and what the world will be like without him. It’s a beautiful, witty, wistful, strangely romantic story that ends in a way you don’t expect.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby
“Through the frayed curtain at my window, a wan glow announces the break of day.”

This book is a miracle in more ways than one. The author, Jean-Dominique Bauby, had been the editor-in-chief of French Elle when he suffered a stroke that left him completely paralyzed except for his left eye, with which he blinked every letter of the 131-page book. It is as succinct as it is rich in detail. I thought of Kaz a lot while reading this book, when Bauby describes the humiliation of having to be bathed like a baby, the immense pain of not being able to speak to his children or reach out and touch them, his frustration with not being able to eat French food anymore or lay with a woman or enjoy any of the things he used to. Talk about loss. But despite all this, Bauby manages to paint a picture of hope, endurance, personal strength, and the spiritual nature of human imagination. While his body is practically dead, his mind soars. His determination to not only live life fully in his thoughts, but also express them to us, is a testament to the human spirit. After I read it, I watched the movie, directed by Julian Schnabel, and loved that too. One of the rare occasions when the movie lived up to the book on which it was based.

Everyman – Philip Roth
“Around the grave in the rundown cemetery were a few of his former advertising colleagues from New York, who recalled his energy and originality and told his daughter, Nancy, what a pleasure it had been to work with him.”

Philip Roth was my mother’s favorite author and I thought of her often while reading this book. The story is told from the point of view of a man who has just died and is trying to process this reality. He does so by reflecting on his life, analyzing the decisions he made, the women he loved, his relationship with his children and so on. It’s a story of “loss, regret, and stoicism.” Ironic, witty and sad. I liked it very much.

Farenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Most people read this book in high school. But I read it for the first time last year, partly because Mr. Bradbury had just passed away and partly because he was one of Kaz’s favorite authors. The story is set in the not too distant future in a world where books are outlawed and firemen are sent to start fires instead of put them out. I’m not normally a science fiction reader, but I couldn’t put it down and kept talking about it to anyone who would listen for months. The story resonated on many levels, not the least of which because it felt so damn plausible.

The Disappearance – A primer of Loss – Genevieve Jurgensen
“You never knew our daughters, neither did you know me as I was when they were alive.”

Ms. Jurgensen writes about losing her two young daughters, age 4 and 7, on the same day to a drunk driver… and how she recovered from this unimaginable loss. I won’t say any more than that except that this book, along with The Diving Bell, made me cry the most. Perhaps coincidence, perhaps not, but both authors are French.

If you have any book recommendations, or thoughts about the books listed, please feel free to share.

Part Three will list books that have been recommended to me, as well as quotes from some of the books mentioned.


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A Reading List for Grief (Part 1 of 3)

If you are grieving, or even if you’re not, you might want to check out some of these books. They are all fine books on their own, but it just so happens I read them all after Kaz died. I have broken the list into three parts. Part One lists the books I read in the first 6 months (in chrono order). Part Two will list the books I read in the following year. Part Three will list some of my favorite quotes from these books, as well as what I’m reading now. I’ve included the first line from each book under the title.

A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

This book is such a classic, someone handed it to me at Kaz’s memorial. Author C.S. Lewis describes his experience of losing his wife after her long struggle with cancer. Amazon describes it as “a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.” Of course, when I read it, I related to the former not the latter, so the end of the book when he describes his renewed sense of faith annoyed me. But it is a beautiful book, very well-written and accessible. Might be interesting to read it again.

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

“Life changes fast.”

Described as “an unflinching account of the sudden loss of her husband which occurred while their only child was in a coma in a hospital, this book is considered another classic. The language is sparse, simple but expertly put together to place you in the mind of a woman who is in the midst of both a huge loss (her husband) and a huge crisis (her daughter). As she jets back and forth from NYC to Los Angeles, the story also jumps around in place and time.” Interestingly, I had the opposite reaction to this book than to A Grief Observed. I related to the end more than the beginning. It’s hard to articulate, but Didion’s writing style is both emotionally distant and emotionally powerful at the same time. I found myself unable to read more than a page or two at a time, and would have to leave the book alone for days in between.

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

“The boy’s name was Santiago.”

I had read this book before and loved it. After Kaz died, I saw it on the shelf and decided to read it again. Honestly, I think this is one you can read over and over and each time find something new. The story is about a young shepherd who decides to leave the comfort of his simple life in a small Spanish town in search of treasure in Egypt. Along the way he meets all kinds of interesting characters, falls in love and learns about himself and life. It’s not about grief, but about accepting change, following your passion and “listening to the signs” the universe gives you. Because it’s told in a parable, it doesn’t feel preachy. I found it very inspiring and meaningful when I read it the second time.

Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor E. Frankl

“This book does not claim to be an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again.”

Kaz’s best friend had recommended this book to us during the year of his illness, but neither of us read it. After he died, I decided to see what it was about. Frankl was a psychiatrist who lost his parents, brother, and pregnant wife while he was in four different concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The first half of the book is about his experience in the camps. The second half is his philosophy on how he and others survived, which (put very simply) he says was a combination of luck and attitude. It’s a fascinating and surprisingly easy read. You might not agree with everything he says, but for a man to have gone through that much loss and still be able to see the positive in life, is really quite remarkable.

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

“Sunday 1 January – 129 lbs. (but post-Christmas), alcohol units 14 (but effectively covers 2 days as 4 hours of party was on New Year’s Day), cigarettes 22, calories 5424.”

After reading those heavy books, I needed a break and read Bridget Jones’s Diary. It was highly satisfying. I laughed out loud many times. Then I watched the movie and laughed again.

If you would like to share what you read, are reading, or think we should read, please do so in the comment section.