As we approach the holiday season, it is a joyous time for many, but it is also a time of sorrow for others. For some are spending their first holidays without a key member of their family. It will not be easy. Everything about the routines, the traditions, the get-togethers…nothing will be the same. And it’s not fair. Nothing about it is fair.
And so, I find myself sharing about grief again. Only this time, I want to talk about how my own experience with grief has bled into my writing.
A Convenient Risk
One of my latest novels, A Convenient Risk, has a thread of grief and the grieving process running through it. I wrote this novel about a year and a half ago. At that time, I was only somewhat acquainted with grief. I had experienced the loss of four grandparents (all of whom I was very, very close to). And I had said an eternal farewell to a close friend who drowned at the age of 19.
I’ll be honest, as a empathetic personality, grief has always been a struggle for me. I have never done well with the process and moving on from it. Until I started going to a counselor. But this is all another post for another time. Which, I promise, I will get into. But this is where I was.
The lead female character in A Convenient Risk, Amanda, loses her husband in the first scene of the novel. And, in this time period, the late 1800’s, there are not many options open to a woman, especially one who must support a child (which she does). So, she has to find stability for she and her son. When a decent offer of marriage comes along, she is hard pressed to take it.
In this book, Amanda struggles through her grief in finding new normal, in the fact she has a new marriage. She is also challenged in the area of belief in a heavenly Father who could love her. This makes her journey even harder.
Here is an excerpt from the novel:
Cold. The air whipping her hair chilled her face, but it couldn’t touch her heart. That was already lost. Was this all she would ever feel? Perhaps that’s what she deserved.
A small hand pulled at her skirt. Samuel. She couldn’t forget him. He deserved better. More than what life had dealt him. Leaning down, she swept him into her arms and held him to her chest. If only there were some semblance of warmth there for him. It couldn’t be helped.
“Don’t cry, Mama.” His tiny voice broke through the silence. Small hands framed her face. “Pa’s in heaven, right?”
Nodding at her son with his simple faith, she set her forehead on his, closing her eyes so he couldn’t see her tears.
Movement to her left gave her pause. But she dare not look. Probably another well-meaning friend come to comfort her. A face among many.
“They need to start.” It was Reverend Mason.
Men with their shovels clanging fell into step behind him. Why now? Could she just have a few more minutes before time continued? Before the inevitable swept her along?
“Ma’am?” The preacher’s voice was kind, but insistent.
Didn’t he know her world was falling apart? That nothing would ever be the same? That she had lost the only one who ever knew…who ever understood…
A hand fell upon her arm, and she did not try to resist as the reverend tugged at her, pulling her away from the graveside.
She snuggled Samuel closer to her chest, placing a hand behind his head and pressing his little face into the crook of her neck. He didn’t need to see. No, she couldn’t let him see as the two men scooped dirt onto his father’s casket.
“Mama, you’re hurting me,” came the muffled little voice.
She loosened her grip. And guilt slammed into her—she had caused enough pain, enough grief. No more. And certainly not for Samuel. He was everything.
“The next few days will be hard, Mrs. Haynes. Don’t expect anything different. You will have to find a new normal. Life as you knew it is gone.”
Amanda nodded numbly as she pressed a kiss to the side of Samuel’s head. New normal. What did that mean? What was normal? Her husband had been ill for near three months. She had watched him waste away. And her child watched his father suffer until death released him.
Shouldn’t they welcome a new normal? But Amanda would give anything to have Jed back. Not to hear his voice, or feel his arms one more time, but to know that everything was going to be all right. Was that selfish? Because right now, the future looked grim. How was she to care for Samuel? For herself? For the ranch?
~ Turnquist, Sara R. (2017)
Some things that come to light for me from this passage are how many emotions come through in grief: sadness, guilt, anger, frustration, bitterness, regret… We also remember good times, which brings us something akin to bittersweetness. And happiness that is laced with pain. (Not that Amanda in this scene has any semblance of that.)
It is true…
But it is true also that life does go on. She has to care for Samuel. She has to find a way to live. That is one of the harder things about grieving. Especially for those of us in a position of responsibility – we have to return to work, we have to wake up and take care of the kids, classes and homework wait for us. Bills and taxes still have to be paid. As much as we wish the world would stop for us to just pause and let ourselves go, it won’t. So we have to find the moments, make the time.
And, in those times, lean into the grief and not turn from it. Let it wash over us.
So we can then begin to heal.