Two debut editors collect thoughts on processing grief in this anthology.
It’s hard to know what to say when offering consolation. When someone you know has lost a spouse or close family member, the same pat responses always seem to come out of your mouth. “Twice before, I’d stood beside parents on the day of a child’s death, a witness to the awkward ballet of distraught looks, too-tight hugs, and tear-choked words that attend shattering loss,” writes Fisher in her introduction. “I’d heard fumbling attempts to comfort that surely only deepened the pain of the bereaved.” This book’s stated purpose is to help readers be better friends to the grievers in their lives. Fisher and Jones solicited short pieces—both poems and prose—from writers who had lost someone close to them. Some deal with the nature of sorrow itself while others focus more directly on the ways that other people treated the contributors during their mourning periods. In the poem “10 Things I Would Tell You if You Were Still Here,” Jami Kahn writes that “people keep asking me how i’m doing, like you were a sprained ankle or a broken nail. i tell them i have phantom limb syndrome, and they just frown, like i’m hopeless. (maybe they’re right.)” In the short essay “In Search of Peace,” Setareh Makinejad tells how she rebuked relatives who attempted to get her to stop wearing black after the death of her daughter. In addition to the pieces, these contributors answered questions about the best and worst things people said during their moments of anguish. As in all anthologies, the individual items are hit-or-miss. The tragic topic may forgive the frequent incidents of sappy and otherwise poor writing, but the reader wonders why the editors included so many works that don’t really have anything to do with the interactions between the still living. The survey questions are more useful, given the book’s worthy objective. While they present a few helpful tips, the participants are so similar in their advice (listen, bring food, hang out, don’t make it about yourself) that the text quickly becomes repetitive, providing few surprises.
A how-to-talk-to-the-bereaved compendium that delivers some familiar advice.