One of the things I love about Lynn Haraldson’s book is that it shows how everyone’s journey through grief is different, and in profound ways. If you think that you understand the grief memoir territory after reading one grief memoir (although I do applaud you for taking this step), or even if you’ve read ten grief memoirs, you would be wrong, because each memoir is the story of a life, and each life is a cornucopia of experiences, discoveries, and struggles. Each story is a journey through a different wilderness. Stories like this are told from the heart, and there are never enough of them.
Her account is moving as she struggles to pull the tattered flaps of her life back together. She writes of the soaring joy as she begins a new life with her husband Bruce and her newborn when he is tragically killed. She keeps pushing through the trauma to get back on her feet and understand what has happened, like why did Bruce not hear the train that killed him. Finding out the why near the end of the book was a transforming moment for her.
Her story takes place in the Midwest and Minnesota where she mentions that people aren’t effusive in sharing their emotions or helping other people with theirs. I know something about this cultural stoicism because I grew up next door in a small town in Wisconsin, among people of German ancestry who expected that life would be hard on everyone so there was no need to talk about feelings. I found this out when I returned to visit my folks after my wife Evelyn died and discovered how taut the language for grief was that I had been taught. I didn’t have the words to describe what was tearing me apart inside, and had to learn it on my own and from others who were grieving.
As Lynn thinks about how she is grieving, she realizes that it’s like working on a jigsaw puzzle. What she had done so far was assemble the frame of the puzzle. Now she was putting the pieces together in the middle, and the whole picture of her grief was emerging. As I did, she also wondered what her loved one would think of her life now, some 40 years later. That’s another neat thing about her book—although her grief and love for Bruce doesn’t end, Lynn gains perspective on her grief over time and learns that she can live with it.
There are wonderful images throughout the book that express and illustrate grief. One is that when we pull up a carpet, it takes a good deal of work to restore the wood floor underneath. Lynn also finds someone to talk to who listens and guides her into thinking about matters she is ignoring. We all need at least one person who doesn’t judge but accepts that what we’re saying is true, and who helps us look into the dark spaces where we’d rather not go.
Most of us want to cling to our grief because it keeps our loved ones alive. We want to understand why this death happened so that we can prevent it from happening to other people we love. We also want to find solid assurance that the Universe isn’t constructed on chaos or hot-wired into pain and suffering. We want to believe that there is enough joy to carry us over the sorrow.
Lynn says that understanding traumatic grief is like peeling an onion because there are so many layers of emotion underneath. She also learns how important it is to be kind to yourself in this time of sifting. After she uncovers the mystery of the train, she finds that she is strong enough to feel joy and sadness at the same time.
Writing about our grief gives us the chance to find all the pieces of our puzzle and put them together.
Lynn Haraldson’s book An Obesity of Grief will be released in May, but it is available for preorder now wherever you buy your books.
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