A Year of Books (about grief)

An annual habit of mine since I’ve been blogging has been to compile an end-of-year reading recap. Each year I’ve done it differently: some years I got really involved with my reading recap blog post. Other times, like last year (2016), I simply “dialed it in” because I wasn’t really feeling much enthusiasm for that writing “assignment.” My reading recap in 2014 still stands as “the bomb” in terms of detail, depth, and length.

Keeping a reading list is another lesson I learned from Mark Baumer. He thought it was important to keep track of the books he read and he encouraged his parents to do the same. Like him, I had a website, so I incorporated my annual reading compendium into my blog/website. Like son—like father. Mary kept her list in a journal/notebook, as well as noting it on the Goodreads site.

When Mark was killed in January, I couldn’t read for most of the next month following his death. Grief affects you in a host of ways, and I experienced a sort of cognitive dulling that made following a narrative difficult, if not impossible. This concerned me, especially if it meant that something essential in my life like reading would get snatched away from me, just like Mark had.

I was grasping (and gasping) for understanding without much success in the days and weeks following Mark’s death. This was when I picked up a book written by a friend and someone I had worked with (as had Mark) in helping her publish that book. Linda Andrews wrote a beautifully-honest book about coping with the death of her husband, Jim. Her own experiences with many people’s inability to cope with what you are going through was oddly comforting. Coming back to Please Bring Soup To Comfort Me While I Grieve offered me a much richer appreciation for what she accomplished in writing that book. It also offered me the ability to make my way back to an important practice of reading.

Grief and an existential sadness have become daily companions during 2017, the year I’d soon like to forget (Mark was killed on January 21), or perhaps be offered some kind of do-over. I spent the final 11 months looking for other books that might offer solace and support. My experience became one where books offering insight and understanding of my new landscape of grief and loss and a world turned upside-down weren’t as readily available as I would have thought they would be. Maybe a better way of articulating that is to say that the kinds of books that spoke to me, personally, weren’t something I could just look up online or pick off the bookshelf at the local library. Finding them necessitated work and investigation. I’m still not sure why. Maybe it’s that the books that dot the self-help section dealing with grief and loss simply aren’t addressing the kinds of things I’m living through. Also, as much as we try to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to “healing” the grieving, everyone grieves differently. I’m not looking to simply compartmentalize my feelings, or to make others more comfortable in my presence, which is often how it seems like we’re expected to process death in America. At times, feeling like I had to measure up to this unrealistic expectation made me angry. Continue reading

Hope in the Dark

It’s easy to grow discouraged in this life. Adversity—whether it’s an illness or failing health, economic stress, loneliness or isolation—or in Mary and my case, losing Mark suddenly and tragically: elements like these can grind even the strongest person down, and make them want to give up.

The case can also be made forcefully that the charge that many of us were given when we were young that life in America would be better for us than previous generations is no longer a reality for most. We’ve just elected a president who is at best, a boorish and self-centered man unlike anyone who has sat in the oval office prior. Some believe however, that our current president is an authoritarian with designs on dismantling what remains of our nation’s functionality and crumbling civic and physical infrastructure.

Peggy Noonan, someone with legitimate Republican bona fides calls Mr. Trump, “Woody Allen without the humor” in an op-ed written for and published in the Wall Street Journal. She paints him as a pathetic and weak little man. She’s probably right, although don’t understimate the damage possible by “weak little men.” It’s also far too easy to locate our reasons for despair in one man or a devastating life event.

In the midst of walking a personal path buffeted by discouragement and sadness, I’ve noted how many others are dealing with their own dark journey. In my own grief, I’ve recognized this collective sense of loss all around.  So fellow travelers, why so sad?

Rebecca Solnit is an American writer and activist. She’s been engaged in environmental and human rights campaigns since the 1980s. Her writing is informed by a life lived with boots firmly planted in real life and direct action work, not academic posturing. Maybe that’s why her book, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, has made such a strong impression on me over the past two weeks as I made my way through it. Continue reading

Waiting and Working on Hope

I’ve loved history and studying anything from a historical perspective, whether sports, religion, music, etc. for a long time. History and sociology are parallel threads that run through most of the reading that I’ve been doing for the past several years. Aiming to read 25-35 books a year and this year, with a late season push, I’ll probably finish near 30, has had a profound influence on me and on how I view the world, or perhaps better, the United States. This self-directed course of study has also helped me enter a post-ideological phase of life that I’m rather enjoying. Continue reading