Tomorrow, I send a new novel out into the world. I specifically checked to be sure the book could be released that day. Both previous novels in the series share the same “birthday,” so I didn’t expect there would be any issues with that. The reason I wanted it is that it is All Saints Day, significant in the context of the novel itself as well as personally.
Today, though, on the eve of the book’s release, I’m honoring difficult anniversaries. A dear friend passed away exactly a year ago. And just a few days ago was the tenth year since my spouse’s brother died.
Writing this novel was part of my own healing process. Grief is a funny thing. I’m not sure why some deaths have hit me harder than others. Over the years, I’ve lost many friends and family members, including all four of my grandparents and my mother. Some of the details are hazy, and others I recall with perfect clarity.
I don’t recall if we actually held my brother-in-law’s memorial service right on Halloween, but I think we may have. What I do remember is that we had to stick around for a while because my then four-year-old had broken my turn signal, and we were waiting for it to be done in the shop. I remember how at the service, I lost it while singing “Be Thou My Vision,” and one of my spouse’s friends reached over and just held my hand for the rest of the song. I still can’t sing it without choking up. I remember how surreal it was to be sitting around in my in-laws’ living room, hours after burying Ben, and having trick-or-treaters show up at the door.
It was in these details that I poured out my own heart on the page while writing this novel. All the small things that have remained sharp in my mind over the years. Not just that one time but the many others, moments captured like old Polaroids.
I used these memories to inform certain scenes in the book. None of them are precisely like my personal experiences, but many of them are similar. Here is an excerpt which draws on the randomness of what our minds choose to focus on:
“It’s the anniversary. Cat died exactly three years ago today.”
“Ah, I’m so sorry.” Chris’s hand on Micah’s arm was warm and comforting. “And you’re here instead of at home.”
“I didn’t want to be alone today.” Micah sniffled, but he held it together for the most part. “You know what I usually do? I go visit my friend Zayne and sit on her couch, eating ice cream and talking about him.”
Chris stepped back. “You could come over. I probably have some cookie dough ice cream, and my couch is pretty comfy.”
Micah stared at him for several seconds before he completely lost it. He sank down onto the floor and drew his knees up, covering his face as he bawled. He could almost feel the shock coming off Chris as he sat down too, pulling Micah closer.
“Sh,” he murmured. “I’ve got you.”
“I-it was his favorite,” Micah blubbered. “C-cookie dough. He couldn’t have the real stuff. Lactose intolerant. Made him really sick. Oh my god, I miss him.”
As a reviewer, I’ve read many novels in which a character is processing grief, and I often find them lacking in realism. Particularly in romance, there’s pressure on the grieving person to “move on.” I understand that the plot needs to move forward, but life doesn’t work this way. It comes across to me as callous, written by someone who thinks loss has a timeline and grief has an expiration date.
What’s often implied here is that sorrow is a selfish thing. I wonder now how many of those writers have never experienced pain of that type and magnitude and how many others have internalized shame over their tears.
So I wrote this novel. It isn’t perfect; no one book can be. It is not primarily a romance, but it is a love story. And it is my love letter to you, those who have felt the desperate, aching loneliness that follows the death of someone precious. You are not alone. You are not wrong or broken or shameful. The depth of your grief is a testament to the breadth of your love.
May those of us who know this pain be comforted today in whatever ways we can.