How it works
You're someone who doesn't go for the swanky combo at the movie theatre; I respect that. Just a single copy for you and I'll add in the e-book for you, too.
1 copy of the book,
the e-book, and
an air hug
1 copy + ebook included
One copy for you, one for someone else so you don't ever have to worry about getting your copy back. This may save your friendship. You're welcome.
2 copies of the book,
an air kiss
2 copies + ebook included
Ah, you get it! You understand that we're all dying and that we're all going to be grieving and you want to be prepared. Super.
4 copies of the book (all signed),
inclusion IN THE BOOK (in the acknowledgements) and,
an imaginary puppy, obviously.
4 copies + ebook included
You're all that and a bag o' chips. But you already knew that.
12 copies of the book (signed),
inclusion in the acknowledgements
an imaginary puppy, and
WAIT FOR IT...
a 60-minute session with me - you can ask questions, we can have a staring contest, I can coach you...it's all up to you. The session will be online, in the comfort of our own homes.
12 copies + ebook included
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This is starting to feel a little like the 12 Days of Christmas...
Here's your list of perks, buddy ol' pal:
24 copies of the book (signed),
inclusion in the acknowledgements,
an imaginary dancing bear,
a Haiku I will write just for you,
a 60-minute session with me - you can ask questions, we can have a staring contest, I can coach you...it's all up to you. The session will be online, in the comfort of our own homes, AND
if you choose, you get to be interviewed on my podcast (also called Grief: A Love Story)
24 copies + ebook included
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I like you, you're a super fan. Here's our dealio:
100 copies of the book (signed)(you'll be able to stack them up and use them as FURNITURE! or hand them out as party favours),
inclusion in the acknowledgements,,
a Haiku I will write just for you,
I will come to you (in North America, somewhere, or Italy...I like Italy) and run a workshop for you and 7 of your friends/colleagues on grief and relationships
I will give you 3 months of weekly coaching (12 60 minute sessions online)
100 copies + ebook included
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A guide to loving the grief that promises to find us; the death-causing kind, and also the grief from simply living life and loving big.Share Tweet LinkedIn Embed https://pszr.co/CWJAn
|3 publishers interested|
The greatest thing we can do for another person is to witness their grief in a powerful way. This book is meant to open that door.
Over a 14-month period starting in the Spring of 2015, it seemed like everyone and everything in my life died. It all reads a little like a sad country song that starts with my last grandparent fading to dark in a nursing home, ramps up with the suicide of my ex-husband-turned-friend, continues with two more deaths and the sad end of my car, and ends with my old dog deciding it was time to go, too.
As I waded through this grief and fell to my knees with it, I came to see that many people are pathologically afraid of speaking about death or grief. I saw that we are, in fact, surrounded by grief all the time, even when everyone around us is gloriously alive, and that living with grief and getting to know it is the surest way to live life to its absolute fullness.
This book is an exploration of the grief from catastrophic loss that snatches the ground from under us and the grief of life from the unexpected sources, including parenthood, regrets and living a happy, fulfilled life. We see more and more adults describing their lives as a "crisis" and they look to be drowning in an unsustainable struggle. Grief is there at every turn, and it is always here with lessons for us.
We will all die, and we will all have people that we love die. The other universal truth is that no matter if we have children or don't, if we have fulfilling careers or don't, if we are successful or we are not, our lives are filled with choices, changes, and endings, and with many of those, come grief.
It is a guide to the care and feeding of our fellow humans as they grieve next to us, and a brave invitation into a conversation about the thing from which none of us will escape.
Introduction - this is an overview of my philosophy and the premise of the book (life and death grief.)
Part 1: Death Grief
Grief from death of a loved one is, in many ways, "the devil that we know." It's the grief we think of and the one that is most recognizable, with the ceremony of it and the known way of dealing with it (or not.) In this section, I look at all angles of grief from the very-human experience of loss.
Part 2: Life Grief
Grief of children and parenthood
From the moment we are physically able to become parents and choose not to, to the moment we die, children and parenthood can represent a lot of grief. It's a "natural" progression to start a family, but with every step, there can be loss, and heartbreak alongside the joy and the purpose.
Grief of relationships
The only thing we really have at the end of our lives is our relationships; careers and accomplishments fall away, possessions and wealth, too. Relationships are the fabric of our lives, and if they're the good ones, they shift and change around us. As these ties with our fellow humans stretch and sometimes snap apart, there is grief.
Other peoples' grief
There is a piece missing in our society, and that is the place for the care-givers, and for the people at the periphery of loss who care about what happens to neighbours and community. This is grief that has no where to go, and so it spreads in an often-chaotic way.
This is an expansion of other peoples' grief that is largely un-named. It's the grief of hearing just how much darkness is in the world, it's the grief of the news, it's the grief of powerlessness. This chapter explores the idea of "mobilizing" grief to a greater good.
Grief of life, marching ahead
If we are growing and evolving humans, we cause a lot of grief as we insist on riding our bikes alone to school for the first time, go on first dates, graduate from schools, and eventually move away and start lives of our own, and with all of these milestones, these events we wish for and dream of, there is grief.
Grief of career
By choice and by circumstance, dreams must sometimes be let go, while other times we see that taking a brave step away from what we know will create the life of different ones. Grief lives here.
This chapter is not a "how to," necessarily, but a presentation of what may help to shift grief for ourselves, the most compassionate ways that we may support the people around us, and some calls to action once the book-reading has concluded.
Bonus section: Book Club Discussion Guide: I will include a guide for discussion with family and friends. This is also a marketing opportunity in the months that follow the book's release.
My audience is two main segments:
1) Women, 34-53, employed, married or formerly married, have children who range in age from infancy to early adulthood. Their conscious, forward-thinking partner may also be interested in reading it, but to a lesser degree.
They are struggling with their circumstances around career, relationships and family, and wonder if life is sustainable at such a frenetic pace. They are aware of carrying the "mental load" of their relationships and find difficulty in accepting the life they have versus the life they envisioned.
As they repeat daily life, over and over again, they wonder what else is out there, and how they might feel more fulfilled.
This article perfectly outlines the women I coach and speak to in this book.
2) Conscious and present adults, 30-55, experiencing a recent death who are looking for tools and coping mechanisms and to have their grief witnessed in a powerful way.
These are actualized people, seeking to make sense of their experience and "find the message in their mess," and seeing that grief can be a gift if one is brave enough to engage with it in all its various forms.
They seek to make sense of their grief in the context of a larger picture.
Tara Caffelle began as a writer and an aspiring actress, many moons ago, and landed, finally, as a certified life and relationship coach in 2008.
She has coached hundreds of couples and individuals from a 'just fine' mediocrity to big lives full of heart and intimacy, bringing vulnerability and honesty to her work, while navigating her own divorce and subsequent stumbles of life-rebuilding.
After losing four men from her life over the course of fourteen months, she turned to writing, once again, to heal and make sense of the deaths and in the process, found from others an unwillingness (and inability) to talk about death and grief and this is where her work turned to that realm.
Tara created a new life after nothing remained of the old, and has taken on a mission to explore grief, from all of its various places, and gently bring it to our daily lives. Through her book, Grief: A Love Story and a podcast of the same name, she engages in brave conversations about the thing no one else wants to talk about with humility, compassion, and humour.
Tara has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Today's Parent, Real Weddings, Wedding Bells, and Popsugar and on several news programs in Canada. She considers writing to be a food group, and has been crafting words since she learned to hold a pen.
I have been a coach for more than 10 years, and self-employed with it as my sole income since 2012, so I have an established team to support the marketing of the book, including graphic designers, strategists and administrative support.
As I am looking to make an impact with this work and actually shift our conversations about grief, I am seeking national publication.
Instagram 1550 followers
Facebook 760 "fans" on my business page, and more than 930 personal connections. I also have a small (but mighty) Facebook community of 150 members.
Newsletter list: 400 subscribers
LinkedIn: 583 connections
Funding from the book's sale will allow me to continue working with a publicist to promote it further. I have a podcast by the same name that, as it grows, will give me opportunity for sponsors, collaboration, and marketing. It was started in August of 2017 and is gaining traction in securing guests and listenership.
In addition to all of this, I will enthusiastically to whatever it takes to promote the book; I can and will create content, use the masses of it that I already have, create videos and broadcasts, and become shamelessly over-exposed.
I read a lot as the voices of other writers inspires my own writing, and thus I have many influences:
The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief by Francis Weller (2015)
Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neil Peart (2002)
The Other Side of Sadness by George Bonanno (2009)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2007)
I see all of these and profound explorations of grief, and with the exception of The Wild Edge of Sorrow, which also covers so well the various sources of grief besides death, these are largely about the grief resulting from loss and moving ahead with grief.
To be honest, I have been very focused on writing and have been staying mostly in my lane; I am not wholly aware of my "competition" (I feel there is space for each of our voices and all of our work.) I expect to be exploring this more as I complete the manuscript and will likely find many that have been self-published and haven't fallen into my radar yet.
The night before my grandfather’s funeral, we all gathered at my aunt’s home in Smithers, BC, and caught up on our various stories from being far-flung from each other; my cousin’s daughter showed us her gymnastics tumbling in the crowded living room, and my uncle made his rounds offering to make cocktails for the group while efficient catching-up conversations carried on in the chaos.
My brother arrived with a giant order of Chinese food and we all filed around the open containers on the table, reaching for spring rolls and making sure the kids all had recognizable items on their plates that they would actually eat. In the calm that followed as the group’s attention turned to feeding their grief, I looked around the room. I saw my cousins with their kids, my brother and his wife with my niece and nephew, and of course all of the assorted friends who had become like family over the years. In the midst of all these people — probably close to 30 of them, I felt utterly alone. I was about to turn 40. I was divorced, childless, and single. Due to cashflow issues, my parents had generously paid for both my flight and my hotel room while I was attending the memorial, but it only lent a feeling of shame and loneliness to my grief. I had no one. In a family (and a society) where that is what you do, get married and have babies, I was a failure.
As my brother made easy conversation with family neither of us had seen for a long time--he was always the host in any sort of gathering--I sat in the sidelines, focusing on my dinner but barely noticing it.
A tidal wave of heavy darkness came over me. I was powerless to stop it, to mask it, or to cover it with enjoyment of the chow mein.
I sat in the arm chair by the window, the one with the velveteen cover and the scene of fences and fields. I touched my toe to the floor, both to feel the ground beneath me, and so I could swivel the chair to face away from my family, to the street.
Facing the enormous windows, I bit the sides of my cheeks, took deep, shaky breaths, and desperately willed the tears to stop. I lightly panted out my emotions and tried to hold back not just tears, but the full-on, ugly-cry sobs waiting to level me.
In that instance, my introverted, silence-loving heart was immensely grateful for the din at my back as everyone carried on with their catching up and second-helpings of dinner.
When I felt in control, I cautiously spun around again, leaned over to my Dad, “Um, could we go? I’ve had about enough and I’d like to go to the the hotel.”
He nodded and looked to my Mom, “Tara’s ready to go--are you?”
It felt like I had been thrown a lifeline when she looked at me warmly and stood to start saying goodbyes. I managed to hold myself together as we said goodnight and made promises to drive safely.
For the short drive to the hotel, I sat silently in the backseat of the car while my Mom went over the logistics for the next day, “The service is at noon and there’s free breakfast at the hotel from 6-9, so you can come down and eat before you get ready.” My Mom has always been a delightful micro-manager of details, and I found comfort in knowing my plans were being taken care of.
Once safely inside my room and in my pyjamas, I sat on the bed and let my sobs come. I cried for my own new version of grief at not having the life I pictured, for the loneliness I felt. I wept out of anger for being dragged into such discomfort by my grandfather’s death. I wept for my fear of losing my ex-husband, Brian, and how close he had come, once again.
The previous fall, just six months earlier, I had been kicking off launch in my business and also exploring some major expansion. I had taken on my due diligence in deciding whether or not to purchase an existing business that would fit nicely with what I already had. I had met with the current owner, and was looking for ways to fold the new site into my “empire” and make a profit of it. This entailed seeking out some investors, writing a proper business plan, and getting my proverbial ducks in a row.
Brian and I had married, after seven years together, in the summer of 2003, in a carefully orchestrated event with tiny cupcakes and 70 guests. It had been sweet and very beautiful, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that we were trying very hard to be wildly in love. We were, from the start, platonic soul mates. We had edged away from each other and after separating in late 2010, we had managed to come together in a treasured and honest friendship that was deeply satisfying for both of us. While establishing our re-friendship, Brian and I had come to be treasured confidantes for one another when it came to life and business decisions, so the previous week, I had promptly texted him and asked to talk with him the next evening to pick his brain a little. The week was a whirlwind, and I ran on fumes and wine, coffee, spoonfuls of ice-cream, and those tiny oranges that come out in winter. The business leap that I was waiting for help with was nearing a decision, but truthfully, I was also happy to poke my head in to the sand and stall on it a little.
When I didn’t hear from Brian that night, I didn’t think much of it, but fired off a quick message. I did not receive a response.
By the time Sunday evening rolled around, I was happy for some downtime. I caught up on dog belly rubs and emails. I was happily padding around the house in my sweatpants when I got a text from Brian asking me if it was a good time to speak, so I called him.
As our conversation began, I could feel him hesitating, and could almost see him pursing his lips together as he tried to control his tears. His voice was raw. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t in touch earlier. I had a pretty rough weekend. You should probably sit down.”
I was already in tears.
I took a seat on the leather sofa and listened, with the golden retriever’s head pressed lightly on my knee and a blanket crumpled in my lap.
He began, finding his words and his bravery in the silence between us; “I tried to kill myself this weekend. I didn’t know what else to do. She (his girlfriend) left and won’t tell me why she doesn’t want to be with me.”
He told me had checked into a fancy-pants hotel and attempted several times on Friday night to end his own life and when he wasn’t successful, he left the hotel and spent the entire night walking. He said he crossed a large bridge and thought of jumping, but very consciously didn’t wish to make a big spectacle of it. He roamed to a local ski hill—I remember calculating as he spoke that he must have walked 30 kilometres that night.
“I walked into the woods and wondered if I just laid down if I would freeze to death.” As night turned to day, he made his way back through the huge park at the edge of the city. He wandered, alone, hungry, and exhausted, and was approached by a passing patrol car. The officer from the car caught up with him and asked how he was. “Not very well” was all he said.
The police took him to the nearest hospital to be looked over, and he had been released later that day to collect his belongings from the hotel.
By the time he called me, he was safe at home and humbly reaching out with a slightly clearer, albeit still depressed, state of mind. He finished with a long and shaky sigh, then “Right now, I’m just broken and exhausted.”
At this conclusion to his story, in the pause that followed, a million things rushed through my mind as tears sprung to my eyes.
“Oh, sweetie,” was all I could say.
I thought of the man I dated immediately after moving out of my house with Brian—he was a true “rebound” and we were a terrible match , even if a fun one. He was a pilot and I remember speaking with him about near-misses. He told me that when he was flying, he had to dismiss anything that went wrong immediately, to not run over it in his mind over and over, lest it take him out of the next moment that required his full attention.
This felt like a near miss, but I didn’t know how I could ever really let it go.
I realized that this could have been such a different phone call. I had to physically shake my head to not have the thought that I nearly lost him. At that point, I was simply his ex-wife. I wasn’t listed as a next-of-kin, the woman who had walked out on him the week before and set all this in motion was, and as Brian told me that night on the phone, “she had seemed oddly annoyed” when his employer had called her (as his listed emergency contact) to sort out what he needed to know about Brian’s whereabouts. I didn’t know how I would have even found out. That thought hit me like a snapped elastic. I wondered when, or how, I would have been notified that this beloved friend had met such a catastrophic end.
The near-miss of it hobbled me.
I remember noticing that my own voice, after my initial shock, was strong and firm, and that I was surprised to have such confident words for him. “I love you, you know. I always will. And I’m not going anywhere. I am still your person and I want you to know that whenever you call, I will answer. I will. Whatever you need, I am here. Is that clear?”
He chuckled lightly through his tears and I could feel him relax into his relief and gratitude. I continued, “and I have really great boundaries, so you don’t have to worry about us getting back together or anything like that.”
We both laughed, perhaps unusually loudly and quickly, out of relief for a break in the tension. It felt right to fall into loving him in this way and being there for him. I was terrified to lose him.
The conversation came to a soft spot that would allow us to hang up and for me to sit and gather my thoughts, but I hesitated, “I’m afraid to hang up. This isn’t some twisted last conversation before you go off yourself, is it?” I was only half-joking.
He chuckled the smallest bit and I sighed in relief; we were able to laugh at this. When his Mom had been dying of cancer, tied to a hospital room while doctors caught up to what she had refused to treat for years, and lined up radiation and an eventual death at home, we had been out running fool’s errands for her. I think in an attempt to feel in control, she had requested all her favourite “healing” foods, and so we had chased after them for her. Upon returning to the hospital, he pulled her car into a parking space and turned to me, “We should go up there and tell them to turn off her life support.”
I was confused. “But she’s not on life support.”
He flashed the smallest smile. “I know, but wouldn’t it be hilarious?” We had always been able to laugh, even at the worst of it, it was one of our superpowers when we were together.
On the phone that night, I could hear the smile in his voice when he said, “No, we’re safe for tonight. Unless I pass quietly in my sleep, that is.” He had always said that macabre, dark thing to me, and it had always been a joke. I felt assured that I would speak to him the next day. I reminded him that I would be on the other end of the phone if he needed anything at all, and he thanked me and hung up.
I turned on the ringer on my phone, then sat silently for a long time. I indulged in thoughts I had brushed aside when we were talking and it started to crash down on me that he could have died while I was running through my weekend. I very easily could never have been able to say goodbye. He could have been successful in his attempts to end his life in that hotel room. He could have easily jumped off the bridge. He could have let the elements take him in the woods. He could have been gone, and it made me think of the summer where he had suffered when we were still together, and how I had said to him “This will change me. Please don’t do it.”
He had changed me with his attempts, with his flirting with it and inviting it into the space of us again. This was my first taste of a new flavour of grief, the letting go of the peace of mind we had. It was the near-miss, the deer you almost hit on the highway, the tragic accident you avoid, but still indulge, as a way of grappling at what still is, in the “what if” of it. In that conversation, the ice below me became thin, and what I knew was suddenly tenuously hanging in the balance.
I don’t think I realized how much of a load it would be, to carry him. I had done a lot of work to find a place in myself to not be weighed down by my own empathy and my own heart. For years, I had observed that my big heart was happy to hold all that it was asked to, but that it tended to feel like I threw it into traffic at the same time, such was the heavy toll I came to feel.
Perhaps fortuitously, the week before Brian called me with this news, I had actually come to a place where I identified a space where I could put all of this stuff that people asked me to hold for them into what I call “My Big Heart Space” — a giant, infinite chasm of openness that I don’t have to sink my energy into.
I spent a few moments breathing deeply. I tried to tuck Brian into that space. And still, it took a toll. I noticed it months later when the phone would ring, that I was on high alert to have to dash out the door, and that a small part of my mind was always making sure that I talked to him each day and knew how he was doing. I called him on the anniversary of his Mom’s death in early December, I invited him over for dinner on his birthday, and brought dinner to him the day after Christmas. I became sort of a lifeline for him and we grew into a new version of “family” after four years spent amicably enough, but separately.
By the time I left for my grandfather’s memorial, Brian had been making incredible strides toward his own wellness; he had created a new routine, was seeing what he lovingly called his “head shrinking team” and was doing really well. I had been able to breathe and even turn off my phone from time to time.
As I cried in that hotel room, I faced again the intense fear I had been carrying all that time. Grief, for better or worse, jumps onto the the backs of other grief and allows us to experience its shape-shifting force and over again when amplified by new losses.
In that hotel room, with that view of the street and my own despair, I gave myself full permission to fall to pieces. I reached out to my best friend and he lovingly texted me throughout the night. I wailed into my pillow. I let the snot pour from my nose and down my face. I finally cried myself to a depleted, dreamless sleep.
The next morning, I felt…hungover. The service was at noon, so I gathered myself together without even checking in with my family and ventured out into the wind to find some coffee and some pantyhose. I could not remember the last time I had worn such ridiculous shit, but the occasion seemed to call for my pale, wintry legs to be uniformly covered, and so I complied. I barely remember completing these tasks.
I holed back into my room to get presentable before facing my family and heading to the church. I felt shattered, but still there. My Dad had lost his Dad, we were gathered to mourn together and conclude his life, and there was work to be done. As bashed-up as I felt by my own grief, I needed to support the people I loved, too.
I managed to appear much like myself for the service, and it would have taken much more than the surface conversation I was offered to uncover my real state of mind, so I numbly went through the motions of attending a funeral.
I sat in the church and watched his life in a slideshow as it flipped by. Photos with his friends, looking young and strong and enjoying the fruits of his hard work, and photos with myself and my cousins as we were growing up. In my head, I could hear him calling me “Little Miss Muffet” as I was crushed into a breathless bear hug from him, and I remembered the many times as a child that I had bravely walked the three blocks to see my grandparents at their house.
There was one unfortunate photo of an awful hair colour choice I made, circa 1989, and the truly atrocious “banana clip” I wore for a family barbecue, and I remember groaning and looking over at my Mum; the whole room was caught in a bittersweet mixture of grief and delight over this lost life.
What I realized, gazing at the photos in his slideshow of his handsome face, beaming at the tops of mountains, and holding fish he had caught, was that my love of the outdoors and the call I have to be outside to connect with what’s real for me, came from my Grampa.
It hadn’t been easy to be in relationship with my grandfather and I had never felt loved in the ways I necessarily wanted to. Now, I am always pointing out to clients how they love each other; by going for an annual check-up, eating well, exercising, wearing a seatbelt, and planning for the future. One of the moments where I first knew the Brian really loved me, beyond just saying it to me, was when he bought a life insurance policy and told me I would be taken care of should anything happen to him.
We show that we love people in other ways, and while my grandfather was not one to share the softer things with me that I would have liked, I know he had a huge heart and showing me fishing and camping and snowmobiling was how he loved all of us. He was a “man’s man”; rugged, larger than life, handsome, stubborn, with a lust for adventure and playing with big-boy toys. He worked hard for his life and at least appeared to enjoy it well with his home, boat, cabin and other belongings.
I left the service grateful for his life. I left knowing that he had found comfort in his last years, even when he seemed so lost without my grandmother. I left embracing my own love of outside and committing to a life that included it. I was about to turn 40, and I had given much thought to how I wanted the year to go. I wanted to meet the love of my life, the man who would appear beside me in a slideshow at my own funeral, eventually. After my I’m-not-married-and-don’t-have-kids meltdown, the service helped me to flip my perspective and focus on the do-over I had been given after my marriage had ended, my business had found its start on shaky legs, and I had started to rebuild so many of the parts I was missing.
Life was getting better and better, and it just looked vastly different that the rest of my family’s. Gramps helped me to be okay with the do-over I found myself in.
Despite my slight flip in my own perspective after the memorial, those feelings of grief and loneliness that were chasing me would stay with me for the year as I found myself weathering loss after loss.
The death of my grandfather (who was also my very last grandparent alive) started what would be a 14-month period of time that would easily read very much like a country song; in addition to that, I lost my former husband-come-best-friend to suicide. I lost a mentor and teacher, the first person I ever recognized from a time and place far beyond this lifetime, to a cardiac catastrophe. I lost an old, old friend to cancer. We had been terrible at keeping in touch but seemed to have one of those connections that defied time and our lives marching forward. My car, my faithful chariot for my post-divorce adventures, died on a ramp to the highway and left me, too. When I thought it was all done, all the grief and the losing, I discovered that my beloved, greying basset hound, whom I had romped through life with since he was just seven weeks old, had cancer and would need to leave, too.
See? Country song.
It seemed like every one and every thing died.
As I waded through it, like a disabled turtle trailing through peanut butter, I made up many things about it. That it was the Universe giving me a do-over and a clean slate. That was all so I could soak up some huge lessons. That people and cars and dogs (and everything else, really) die, eventually. That the people and circumstances of my life would, despite my fierce independence, take care of me if I were to fall to my knees and collapse. That I could fall to my knees and collapse. That I was being tested. That I needed to see how I am resilient almost-to-a-fault.
Go back even further, there are several years worth of endings that have been teaching me about love and living and all the things in between.
My marriage to Brian of 14-years had ended five years before, and that time was probably my first real introduction to grief. Of course I look now and see that like everyone else, I had a string of beginnings and endings that began the moment I was born. That roller-coaster ride gave me a lot of the foundations of grief that I know now and is the basis for many of the tools I will give you as we explore this.
But the grief of all that loss in one year, this profound and compiled and heaped-together grief gave me something I did not expect. It gave me a bone-deep mission that has unfolded and presented itself to me: make death less precious and part of the fabric of our conversations because our full immersion in it is the only thing that is going to save us all.
I am here. Armed with ideas, thoughts, observations and learnings. Armed with wisdom that came from stumbling through the woods, and along coastlines, and along the circles of a labyrinth while getting soaked to my skin in West Coast rain.
Here’s my invitation to you as you read this book: jump in, jump around, read it backwards, read it in tiny morsels, read it all at once. Read it from cover to cover. It certainly wasn’t written in any sort of linear fashion, and I think it’s perfectly okay to read it the same way. I am someone who starts a book and then swiftly heads to the last chapter to see how it ends; it is less important to me the destination as it is the how in which that destination was reached. You do what works for you.
I would love for us all to know is that we have universal permission—a backstage pass, if you will— to feel whatever is it we feel. I wish bravery to all of us to brazenly enter the shadows and learn from them. I wish to live in a world where there is space for all to be whatever the hell we are, even if that’s different from others. I would like all of us to be curious about things we don’t understand, including fear.
I wish to live in a world where we understand that the underpinning of so much emotion is actually grief; what I call Life Grief and Death Grief. The former is with us all the time, and exists in the duality of living, and the latter is in those catastrophic moments of loss when the ground beneath us vanishes.
When I first pondered what my reasons are for showing up, for my get-out-of-bed motivations beside money and preserving my own life, I found a lot of deep-seeded purpose in myself, and now, there’s maybe even more. I work for a world where there is love. Love. Where we are all allowed to be and feel and express, and it’s deeper than the particle-things that people can see about us. I want to live in a world where there is freedom to think and feel as we just DO. Where there is respect. I want to live in a world where women are actually treated equally, where their bodies and the decisions that apply to them, are for women to make. I want to live in a world where young men are raised differently. I want to live in world where privilege doesn’t exist. I know that these are tall, tall orders, but I want them, anyway. As we are growing up, driving drunk, and jumping off things in our invincible sort of way, death doesn’t occur to us. We are shielded from the reality as our parents quietly take care of any arrangements that need to be made when our grandparents or older family members die, but we are also, if death is a lot closer to us—a sibling or a parent, perhaps—not even necessarily given the tools then.
That’s not okay with me.
I want to live in a world where we’re real and brave together. Where we talk about what’s happening: that we are having more or less sex than everyone else, that we have more or less money than everyone else, that we all love our kids every minute of the day (even when we barely like them!). I want to live in a world where we’re honest, and intimate and authentic with one another, and that there is no shaming, or blaming, just acceptance, and curiosity, and compassion and love.
That’s all I want. Just that tiny thing.
What I learned from my grief community on Facebook, Grief: A Love Story, is that if we share our grief and have it be witnessed, incredible things happen to us. Especially now, with so much of our social interaction online—I know this personally, as I have moved to the outskirts of a city, twenty minutes from the nearest store, happily padding around my house in my slippers, sometimes only leaving the house only to take the dog on a brief sniffing adventure through the neighbourhood-- that we suffer with our grief in solitary silos, where the only sound is a stifled sob.
I have noticed that grief is much like shame. I am inspired by the work of Brene Brown in this: “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
The same is true for grief. We can hold it and bear it alone, white-knuckled and silent, or we can let it into the light. We can share it and allow it to be seen, and witnessed and held, and in doing this, we allow it to dissipate. When we hold our grief to ourselves, or play a cat-and-mouse game with it to escape it, we allow it to control a chaotic narrative. Conversely, when we free it, speak about it, live in curiosity with it, we allow it space to breathe and to teach us. In grief lies empowerment.
The greatest thing we can do for another person is to witness their grief in a powerful way.
This book is meant to open that door.
SAMPLE CHAPTER EXCERPT:
I lost my first grandparent when I was just 13, but for the longest time death was something I didn’t think could ever happen to me. Although I was far from reckless with my life (high-adrenaline activities make me cry like a toddler), I was blissfully ignorant to what was to come at the end. It didn’t occur to me that I was, in fact, walking with grief all the time.
Yet as a teenager, I was already interested in the things that excite me now: the energy that lies beyond what we know in this experience, communicating with spirits and angels, the idea that we humans are just a tiny part of something unfathomably huge. I would try to gather friends for some sort of ritual around the full moon, arguing that the spirits were closest to us at that time. I didn’t really have a clue what I was talking about—and didn’t have the luxury of asking Google, back then—but it didn’t stop me from packing my nylon backpack with candles and rocks and other assorted things I thought we might need for a “spell.”
We brave souls would gather in the field we often played football in after dinner, up a hill from the town cemetery, and stand awkwardly in a circle as I shared my thoughts and ideas about creating intention. We’d quickly get cold or bored, and then, after much time standing around talking about school and whatever else was going on, walk home to our parents’ houses. What I had in enthusiasm, I lacked completely in execution.
My then-boyfriend Brian and I moved to New Westminster when I was 28, where we lived just a few blocks away from one of the oldest cemeteries in the province. New Westminster was the original capital of British Columbia, and many of the headstones date back to the middle of the previous century. I’d visit in the spring with my camera to capture the epic cherry blossoms in canopies along the lanes. I’d wander in winter after huge snowstorms to photograph the snow clinging to the branches, creating a sea of peace and white.
A few months after we moved, Brian and I were married at Jericho Beach, in a carefully orchestrated event with tiny cupcakes and 70 guests. It was sweet and very beautiful, but what I didn’t realize at the time was that we were trying very hard to be wildly in love. We were, from the start, platonic soul mates.
When we got our Basset Hound, Baxter, the cemetery was where I took him on some of his first walks. I could let him explore and sniff without having to worry about traffic. I liked to think the old bodies at rest enjoyed his playful scamper above.
There was a small headstone at one of the edges of the property, covered in tiny vines, of a boy who only lived to be four or five. On the headstone were the dates of his birth and his death and a short inscription I still remember: “Our little sunshine.” With that tiny phrase, I learned so much: he had been adored and loved, even in a time when children were not as openly treated with such affection. He had lived a short life and was missed. I had such a strong image of his parents, lost without him.
Another larger monument told a different story. It was for two brothers who appeared to have married two sisters. I imagined that the four of them enjoyed many adventures together, going to the drive-in and to dances. They were married within years of each other and then three of the foursome all died on the same day, leaving behind one of the sisters. I imagined a car accident, leaving a lone survivor with an insurmountable loss. She died several years later, perhaps from a broken heart.
But the headstones leave out so much. After all, it’s really only the dash that matters—the time between the date of our birth and the date of our death. And it’s in the middle of that dash, in the time I find myself, that we are often the hardest hit by loss.
I used to be in such a hurry to grow up. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to turn 19 and always proudly shared my age, as if it gave me some sort of credibility and status. I think wanting to call Brian my husband instead of my boyfriend was a motivating factor in the decision to get married. “Husband” sounded so much more legitimate, mature and validated. After 30, and later 40, it was different. Some people start to hide their age, feeling like they need to be younger than they are. I stopped trying to be older, and instead appreciated that growing older was a gift. As I said goodbye to friends, I came to think of my grey hairs, more plentiful by the day, as a privilege I was given. I don’t spend a lot of time in front of the mirror each day—I rarely even wear makeup—but I often pause to admire the joy lines around my eyes and the subtle signs of a life well-lived.
I count in a different way, now. I am more in touch, all the time, with the reality that I am likely only here for about fifty more years. That’s fifty more Thanksgivings, fifty more birthdays, and only twelve more national elections. When I was young and invincible, it didn’t actually occur to me that one day, my life would end. I felt endless. It may have struck me sooner if I had children to leave behind, but as I have only had pets and dealt with the reality that I was very likely to outlive them, the notion of death didn’t start to really dawn on me in a real way until my 20-year high school reunion. And at that point, Brian and I had separated, and although I didn’t know it at the time, I was barrelling towards the most intense period of grief of my life.
Our wedding had been on the same weekend of the 10-year reunion, so I’d missed it. And let’s be honest: 10 years after graduation there isn’t much to see. Most people’s lives haven’t started to really fall apart in any interesting ways; we’re all pretty healthy and vital. I looked forward to seeing everyone twenty years later with a sort of morbid curiosity. My life had flipped exponentially; forget a thriving family, I wasn’t even still married. And I was self-employed but far from profitable, so I certainly didn’t feel like I had necessarily arrived anywhere. I wanted to see where everyone else had ended up, all those years later.
The weekend was to be pretty casual: an evening at a local pub, then a picnic lunch out at the lake. Having missed the previous reunion, I was looking forward to seeing everyone, but as I was on a strict cleanse with my naturopath, I couldn’t eat or drink anything even remotely fun and was, instead, one of those annoyingly high-maintenance diners at the pub.
The crowd seemed split between those who had moved away, to the big city and beyond, and those who had chosen to stay. A couple were young grandparents, and there were some like me, who had never opted to have kids. There was the guy who deserved the prize for Hottest, Youngest Girlfriend, and also the self-righteous ass, who continued to regard me with dismissive disdain.
These people knew me in the first grade, when I sunk into the crust of the snow on the field in the winter and my boot got stuck, and had to wait to be rescued. They knew me at sleepovers and lip-sync concerts, and when I had my very first crush on a boy.
As I made my way from classmate to classmate, catching up and connecting, I felt every one of my 38 years; so much had changed for so many of us. Many had children, ranging in age from newborn to early 20s many had careers hard-won with years of education and real-life struggle. I spoke with one of my friends, Lori, a mother of two with joy lines on her face that were the only thing to indicate she had aged at all. She was still petite and fit and warmly open. I asked about her mom.
“Oh, she’s doing okay,” Lori said. “She’s struggling a little with running the farm now, so we keep having conversations about what we’re going to do when she can’t.” She frowned. “I worry about her.”
Lori had officially entered the “sandwich” generation, simultaneously worrying about her mother and her own children.
This conversation stayed with me for a long time. It was a clear early example of what I have come to call “Middle Life Grief”: the grief that hits us in our 30s and 40s, when our kids might be young and growing up or older and moving out, our parents may become frail and start to need us in new ways, and any number of major life transitions may be hitting us all at once—mourning friends who die young, divorcing, embracing new careers that are more meaningful than just being the source of a paycheque, and facing our own mortality in all of it.
The process of separating from Brian had brought its own kind of intense grief as we untangled a lifetime worth of things that we would never be together: parents, world travellers, or even the happy hosts of dinner parties. We had grown in separate directions until we started to feel broken and "tired of the try.” After a few lonely and isolating years, we saw that our time as man and wife was naturally concluding and shifting into something new.
After we split, I had grieved the loss of our marriage but also felt strong—after all, I had become fiercely independent in those later years. I was trying to live my dash to the fullest: launching my coaching business, taking full custody of the remote control, and carefully designing the next chapter of my life.
The second day of the high school reunion involved a BBQ at the local lake, where the mosquitoes were out and the sun was hot. Many people brought their kids along, and it was odd, but lovely, to see younger versions of people I had known for so long wandering around, looking like their parents. We feasted on crab that someone had brought, and fought off wasps who wanted a part of the action.
At one point, I realized I was feeling profoundly alone. One of my classmates, a guy who had been slightly rough around the edges, arrived with his wife in tow, and it made me bitter. If he could find someone and be happy, why couldn’t I? What was wrong with me? After all, I was the common denominator of all the failed relationships I left in my wake, wasn’t I?
As someone who was single for a long time, and lived a pretty solo life for a lot of my marriage, even, I was used to this feeling and could usually suck it up and get through. Not this time. It felt like there was a hollow pit inside of me, and it became hard to shake off. I remember petting someone’s dog and focusing very hard on cleaning up after lunch and even visiting the outhouse to mask what was happening for me. I made my exit as quickly as I could. I said my goodbyes, promised to stay in touch, and got in my car. I started the engine, opened the sunroof, and drove out of the park, parking at the top of the road by the cemetery to sob into my hands.
After a while, I managed a deep, quaking breath and made the drive to pick up Baxter, who was staying with a friend, and then headed to the home of one of my oldest and best friends for the night. She was away at a funeral, but her husband was there. He was holding down the fort and caring for their four kids and also me, it would seem.
I have known him even longer than her, and as I walked into the house, he asked me how the afternoon had been.
I tried to say nice things, to be my brave self, but I couldn’t, and I found myself in tears again, standing at the edge of their living room. I couldn’t speak as my nose ran and my tears came. He gently folded me into a hug and held me as I let it all out. “You’re going to meet someone who’s just as incredible as you are,” he said. He made sure I was looking him in the eye as he continued, “I promise.”
I pulled away a little and looked at him, searching for a lie, makeup running down my face. “Are you sure?” I half-wailed, before losing myself to another gasping sob.
He just nodded, then pulled away and picked up his iPad from the table. “Want to go look at the stars with me? There’s a couple of cool things happening up there right now.”
We went out to the trampoline, crawled through the netting that kept the kids on the thing, and, shoulder to shoulder, looked up. He brought up the guide on the iPad and we identified many wonders above. It was pretty magical, and as there was very little light pollution, we could see a lot.
He carefully identified the constellations above us, and I’m sure they all had fancy star names. All I remember was the darkness, the specks of light, and the peace I felt in my grief. I had sat in the worst of it, and it had given me stars.
We alternated between identifying all the constellations and staring up in companionable silence. I had cracked open, he held my broken bits, and squeezed them back together as we looked at the sky, side-by-side in the dark.
That weekend, in the summer of 2013, I swiftly entered my own middle years of grief and began to ask it, each time, what it held for me and what I was being gifted to learn.
The biggest loss would come two years later, when I would say goodbye to my final living grandparent and when, after a long sojourn of struggle, my ex-husband Brian, who had remained one of my dearest friends, would take his own life.
Now I see that grief is always there. It’s there when we’re born, it’s there as we make friends and lose friends, and it’s there with every single beginning and ending. But it didn't occur to me that I was, in many moments of my life, learning about grief, until I brushed up right against it and was the very last person to speak to a man who hung himself moments later.
My grief has deepened my determination to help others live the full depth and breadth of the “dash” that exists between their dates of birth and death. I want to live in a world where we embrace the messiness and have meaningful conversations around the dinner table—heck, where we even eat around the dinner table. Where we are open about struggle and loss and even joy, and we support each other through all of it knowing that relationships are, in the end and always, all we have. A world where we understand that what underpins so much emotion is actually grief: what I call Life Grief and Death Grief. The former is with us all the time, and exists in the duality of living, and the latter is in those catastrophic moments of loss when the ground beneath us vanishes.
In my life, I lost Brian a couple of different ways. And that loss comes from a place of love. I so loved his gentlemanly heart and the crinkle lines around his eyes. I loved the way he walked through the world and befriended every cat that crossed his path. I loved that he understood my unfailing generosity, because he shared it. I see that I was brave to love him, even if I didn’t know in the beginning that I would lose him. First in our divorce, and again when he died.
This is one of the things I know for sure:
“Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.” - Author Unknown
So this is my story of finding the profound gifts in grief and coming to see that if we allow it, it can be beautiful. And this story is Brian’s, too.
He was, in de-escalating order, my friend, ex-husband, husband and boyfriend. He was a beloved and cherished son to parents who are long gone. To the woman he was seeing when he died, he was perhaps a love of her life and the person she spent 90% of her day thinking about with a goofy grin on her face. He was a friend, a plumber, a dad to a dog, a stockbroker and coach. He was a gifted writer. He was a nephew and a beloved cousin, and is still missed in this way. He was a person struggling with his mental health, and a survivor, until he wasn't.
He is a statistic.
He is a fine spray of ashes, set free into the ocean. He is a pile of files I sort through as I settle his estate.
He is with me now as I write this book.
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This week, like many, shows me that I am here and writing the things that are needed. I've been reeling from two different celebrity suicides ...