Eight years ago today I went to Barnes and Noble Writers Night, something I did every fourth Thursday. It was the last normal event of my lifetime. Later that night at home, things weren’t right, but I didn’t realize it, then on the 27th, all hell broke loose, and then on the 28th, he was dead.
Three years ago I wrote and published a book about my grief journey.
Three months ago, after several great reviews, I got a bad review on Amazon. “Bit of a slow launch, so I lost interest.” Geez, lady. I know as the author I’m supposed to have a thick skin and take it and go on and not say anything. Those of you who know me know that ain’t gon happen.
Page 1: “The back yard was stone-solid sienna clay when I bought this new house in December, seven months ago. Fescue seeds had been scattered on top of it and covered with straw. Spring rains wet the clay and pounded the straw into it to mesh as part of the earth’s hardscape, and the summer sun baked it. Pottery, that’s what it was. The landscape of my heart was pottery, too. I couldn’t dig or pry the straw out of that hard clay, nor could I remove the scars left by the death of my husband.”
Page 3: “When your spouse dies, your life stops…You scramble blindly in a flood of adrenaline to pull the fractured pieces of that life in close around you within your new reality….”
Page 6: “The rule for perennials—the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year they leap,” (Ahem, in case you missed it, this is a description of the grief journey.)
Page 10: “I’m bleeding. There’s blood with the diarrhea. And lots of it.” (A man was bleeding out, internally and through his rectum, and dying.)
By pages 16-17—after 1) scenes (including the doctor’s office emergency of his passing out, the 911 call, ambulance screaming to the hospital), 2) dialogue (“It felt like somebody jabbed a broom handle down my throat.”, 3) description (Blood was running through the tubes, along with bits of brown solid material.), and 4) more scenes with details (including that insensitive wretch of a woman who sought me out in the hospital waiting room and came to brag about how God miraculously intervened and saved her husband from an aneurysm, and then the surgeon tells me that my husband has a five percent chance of survival without God’s intervention as LifeFlight whirs outside the window)—the reader knows the surgeon has asked if my husband is retired in order to determine if he is worth saving (or just a useless sitting-around non-working person) because he has experienced an aortic dissection, in which the aortic artery ruptures, or explodes, from throat to groin. By page 20 the reader knows God is not going to intervene, and on page 22, my husband comes to me in death telling me he’s going, he’s going. (The remaining 155 pages illustrate the harsh, graphic reality of loss and grief and moving toward healing.)
Yes, I agree with Cheryl, the reviewer. It did have a sort of slow start, even though there were strong pulls and strong emotions and foreshadowing and strong images. The first five-and-a-half-page chapter was added after the book was written—with intent and purpose—because I was concerned for the readers in my target audience, those who like me had lost their spouses or significant loved ones and were grieving. The heart can take just so much. I didn’t want to add hurt.
It would be just like me, because I, like Cheryl, even and especially in pain and loss, can do the graphic details, to begin with the broom handle jabbing down his throat and his describing it to the doctor and me beating my head back against the wall because he had not told me this.
It would be just like me to begin with the scene in the hospital room with him put in a coma-like state and hooked up to millions of tubes, with blood and bile running through them because at that moment, I realized I could lose my husband.
Or at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the waiting room where my husband came to me at the moment of death, page 22. “Suddenly, I felt a warm energy. A quiet, liquid smoothness came at me, into me, sank into my front, began to wrap around me. I could feel it enfolding me, touching against my sides and back until it held me, and I was fully enclosed in the presence. It was the calmest feeling I’d ever known. It was not of this world. It was Charlie. …Then I heard his voice. His words came with an urgency. ‘I’m going, I’m going.’”
But I made a calculated decision to lead my readers gently through a first chapter, pages 1-6, titled “I Build,” which takes place four years after my husband’s death, after I’ve sold our home and bought mine. I wanted my readers to know that I was okay after walking that grief road for a while, before I immersed them in the painful and horrific details of Charlie’s death and the hideous and tough realities that come with loss, when a widow loses everything and tries to rebuild a life that has some meaning. And this first chapter is when I saw the dragonflies—messengers from heaven. I wanted my readers to have a good thought as they entered the harsh reading of raw real life.
I understand that books are about “the writing.” But this book, from my perspective, is also about the journey and the PEOPLE, the other mourners, and care was taken for the hearts and souls of those who are hurting. And if I had it to do over again, I would do the same thing.
I just hope that a bad review will not deter any grieving person from selecting this book to be a companion for a walk down that grief road—to know that the feelings you have are normal, that it is more than just the one loss—it’s layers of losses, and that you do come to understanding and sort of a healing eventually. And most importantly to know that it is not a betrayal of your faith to question, struggle, and suffer terribly in loss.