Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Creative Grief


Book: This Angel On My Chest, Leslie Pietrzyk, University of Pittsburgh Press

Creative Grief. Two words you don’t often see paired together.

Leslie Pietrzyk’s book is a collection of stories based on the real events of her husband’s death at age 37 to a heart attack, but it’s told in the guise of fiction. She speaks about the concerns of grief in 16 different ways using an assortment of characters.

Making the account fictional frees Pietrzyk to add in details that she wished had happened and include dialogue that she wished people had said that would have helped her understand and deal with grief better.

Until we get creative with grief, Death and its minions will control us.

What I mean is this. The narrative of our grief is still being written. It’s not a set package that is handed to us. The course of grief is not set in stone. Grief is fluid, and if we aren’t creative with it, it will take over the guest room in our house and never leave. But if we work with grief, we will discover what it is, learn how we want to respond, and clear a path through the dark woods that will take us where we want to go.

Pietrzyk’s book not only explores grief, it is also an example of how to write about grief. The writing is exquisite and crafted, and I can’t say that about many grief narratives. I can open her book to any page and be moved by how she talks about grief. We aren’t pummeled into submission by the unrelenting intensity of grief like so many other grief accounts. The heartbreak and sorrow are still there, but often I found myself chuckling at her humor and wit.

When death is illogical, as it usually is, if we pay close attention, it’s a short step to the gallows humor, the droll wit, the flash of insight that opens the imagination.

If you have grieved the loss of someone, you have probably felt caught in a waking dream that you could neither finish nor wake from, of living in the threshold consciousness between lucid thoughts and hallucinations, and have run a host of scenarios through your head in an effort to change reality, to make the death a bad dream, or to bend grief enough to make it bearable. The endless “what ifs.” Pietrzyk gives us examples of how to step back from being so tightly screwed into the trauma to approach it from a different angle and see it more clearly.

If we can’t laugh at death, then death wins.

After you have read a dozen or more grief narratives, they begin to sound the same. There is the dying, the death, the slow recovery, and life eventually goes on in some permutation. In her book, Leslie continually surprises my expectations and invites me to stand near the action where I feel like an informed observer.

Each story in the book speaks honestly about the grief of a wife for her husband who died too young. The opening story/essay, “Ten Things,” is worth the price of admission. The book ends on the image of walking along a beach and staring over an ocean with her husband. Did she actually do this? Perhaps. It doesn’t matter. It’s an image I can feel that takes my breath away and breaks my heart.

Pietrzyk is a novelist, and describing grief via fiction allows her to say the things that she wouldn’t normally let out of her head. We hear her inner dialogue, the thoughts that bubble up in the idle hours, the recursive nightmares and the comforting dreams. Which details are real and which are made up?


Sometimes fiction expresses the truth of grief better than the facts.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing. Her book sounds fantastic, beautifully different and honest and I just can't wait to read it! -Nik Tebbe www.niktebbe.com

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  2. Fictionalizing tragic events that happen does open a door to look at things with a different view.

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    Replies
    1. It does give us more freedom to explore the "what ifs," doesn't it, Melody.

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