A Diagram of Grief
It has to be the smallest topic area of books. The grief section that is, at Barnes and Noble no less. The sales clerk gave me a litany of reasons of why they had what books where and which ones but all her explanations were superfluous considering the negative magnitude of the offering on grief or death. I promise the first book I opened had a full-fledged diagram, similar to the 10,927 I drew at Salem Academy. Ugh. This one was not nearly as interesting as grief was in the center and spinoff words included: early, middle, late. It was like you were getting ready to be trapped in some boring liturgy surrounding the Cenozoic Period. There you have it, grief in a nutshell at Barnes and Noble.
In all seriousness, there was nothing else. This one shelf not quite three feet wide with every thing you may want to know about death and the feelings that come with it. Perfect perhaps for a research paper, more of a scientific examination but nothing that resembled the familiar tugging of my heart strings, real grief. The kind of sadness that envelopes every emotion all at one time and yet, the noun/verb/adverb is simple and not representative of the magnitude of what it really feels like to be beaten, downtrodden, obliterated by pain, palpable sorrow and messy, vomit, slobber, runny nose, puffy red eyes, swollen face. The feeling of being terribly hungover after the crying subsides and the day after the rest has come.
Where are those books? Where are the ones accounting for the real misery that we humans feel with death, each and every one of them we encounter. I remember going to the library at my small girl’s school in hopes of finding the book that I would relate to, but it was nowhere in sight. Over the years, the Internet grew and there is story after story of tragedy, terrible accidents recounted and the details of who was left behind. Still, no book that touched on the feelings left behind by the sinkhole of loss.
I had planned a two hour visit to the large bookstore a few weeks ago, as part as my needs 24 hour getaway. I was eager to browse the shelves and spend some money I had saved for this very purpose. I found new books for Amos, a book for each of my older children, and also a few books related to the public education system. I had saved my best search for last and asked the young woman to direct me to the section on grief. She was the same one that been kind to direct me to my previous interests and had put my future parcels in a small area behind her desk. She paused and led me past the healthy living books, 100’s of them certainly and then passed the Self-Help section. Again, shelf after shelf of books to organize, plan, execute, and embrace the strategies spelled out in the Healthy Section books. I thought to myself that this pattern made sense and of course, the books about death came last. Funny really. If you had not read the other books, you would end up more quickly over here.
She stopped and peered around, her eyes scanning the shelves and said with a relieved, “ah-ha!” as she pointed to the lower shelf and shrugged when I asked if that was all. She left discreetly, maybe to leave me to my grieving in silent peace but I was filled with laughter and then annoyance. Twenty five years since I had searched the shelves of a literary giant and nothing had changed, not one book that accounted for the feelings that summed up equal to the singular word, grief. I was shocked and mad at myself for being shocked. I realized while I feel so raw writing about my own feelings, there was no camaraderie to be found in the current grief section. Instead, the robotic writers had authored books with detailed sketches of the processes of grief, capturing the definitions of anger, sorrow, disbelief but void of emotion.
Now a bit downtrodden myself, like a child who had gone to Disney World expecting the time of their life but had found the gate closed and padlocked. I was 15 again, all alone with my broken heart and felt as lonely as I did when I ran out of that hospital room. I gathered up my items and headed to the front desk where I put some larger items an hour earlier, stainless steel pots and pans and a myriad of plastic food, to restore Amos’ kitchen.
A kind man greeted me and asked if the items he had were mine and I said yes and places my other books on the counter. We made small talk and when he asked me if I had found everything all right, I said no and explained the reason for my disappointment. He repeated more of the same the helper had told me earlier, about space, what sells, and a description of the target audience. I told him my feeling that it seems like grief would have a wide target audience considering we are all going to meet that fate someday. Also, I just wondered aloud if people that knew the most about death were too hurt to write about it? Maybe their grief was too great to share about grief, one of the few things on this planet that everyone of us will experience. Every single one of us and yet, only a few dozen books giving surface type explanations on the stages of grief.
He listened carefully, nodded and then spoke. His voice was a bit quieter and he spoke slowly and deliberately, his words from the heart, his grief. He shared his story, a story of the older brother whose shadow he had lived in his whole life. When I asked how old he had been at the time, I was taken aback when he told me that his brother had died seven years before his birth. His father drank to excess and his mother spent more time in the bed in, than out. He said his whole life had been overshadowed by the death of his brother and his parents had never been fully available as they wallowed in their own grief. I longed to hug him but the wide mahogany counter was a physical barrier so I reached over and squeezed his hand. He accepted this small bit of courtesy and I told him that someday I would write our story. A book that would link us together, a real story of tragedy and the sorrow that follows it. The last chapter will reveal the hope that comes and the grace that is always there.