In the year after Roy died I read probably around 100 books. All I could do was read and knit. Those books take up the better part of a tall bookshelf in my bedroom. Some day I may review my grief reading as I now think of it, but it's still too soon.
However, there were two books I read during that time that provide sacred solace, comfort and healing in this journey. I was reading them simultaneously, as I often do, fiction and nonfiction, without any intention of alignment between the two. But reading these two at the same time was not a mistake. Something divine brought this together to crystalize an experience critical to my path toward peace and well being.
The nonfiction book is Getting Grief Right by Patrick O'Malley. For me, he's got it. He unlocked the door that allows me to integrate the agony of grief. Here he describes his own journey through grief when, as a young man, he lost his daughter. O'Malley was a new therapist at the time, so his perspective was uniquely that of someone who thought he understand the grieving process. He has gracefully identified the myth of closure and moving on for what it is. A myth. That's not how grief works for me. And apparently, not for many people.
In the introduction he reflects on his own grief process.
"Finally, I realized that all the analysis was competing for space with my love. When I stopped judging my mourning so much love, intimacy and grace flowed back into my heart. There was so much bittersweet joy in reconnecting to the love.
"This moment was almost always the turning point for my clients as well - the moment when they came to understand that their grief was a function of their love. Who could argue with that? How could there be shame in their sorrow? How could their feelings be wrong? How could their feelings do anything but connect them with the ones they missed. The feelings, painful as they may be, were honoring. They were affirming. Grief could be something to be grateful for.
Once I had been haunted by these questions: What's wrong with my clients? What's wrong with me? What a relief to realize that there was nothing wrong with any of us. We were not crazy. We were not wallowing.
Clients would ask, "How long will this take?" and I would reply, "How deeply did you love?"
The gift that Annie Barrows gave me in her protagonist Jottie, was the gift of seeing this truth come to life. The gift of all novels. Here's an excerpt as Jottie, after 15 years, is finally able to see the truth of her first love, and loss and the mystery that had shrouded her grief.
"The pain was terrible, like something being pulled from her body. Vause was gone; he was gone yesterday, and today, and tomorrow and next year and every day until she died, hundreds and thousands of days she was going to have to go through without him. She put her hand over her mouth to hold back the sound she was about to make...
"...Between that moment and this, Jottie had time. Hours. She stared into the darkness and, diver on the precipice, looked down at the glittering blue. Now. Now she could. Carefully schooled in starvation, she allowed herself to conjure Vause. First the whole of him from a distance, then closer his shining eyes his golden hair, and now his beautiful hands against her face. She dove and the water closed cool around her. Oh, the luxury of the it, the greedy joy of assembling him rather than banishing him, oh and she was lost in it. He smiled with one side of his mouth first, and he tucked his head like so when he ran...
Jottie marveled at this lost treasure, this wonder now restored to her. Hers again, hers forever, never to be taken from her. Faster and faster she pulled him to her, all of him hers again."
The greedy joy of assembling him instead of banishing him. Yes. That.