I love Elizabeth Berg’s novels. She’s my go-to writer for books that allow me to escape into someone else’s life while offering insight and meaning. It occurred to me some years ago that the reason I love her books so much is that she almost always tackles the topics of life transitions and loss. She’s not afraid to talk about literal death and death in everyday life. She begins one of her latest novels, Home Safe (about an older woman’s grieving process in the aftermath of her husband’s death), with the following description:
One Saturday when she was nine years old, Helen Ames went into the basement, sat at the card table her mother used for folding laundry, and began writing. She wrote about the flimsy heads of dandelions gone to seed, about the voices of her parents drifting from their bedroom at night, about the nest of coins she once found in a field of grass; then, finally, about the drowning death of one of her fourth-grade classmates in a pond thick with algae. She had witnessed the attempted resuscitation, and certain images would not leave her: the boy’s striped shirt, his waterlogged pants, the yellow-green gunk in his hair, the Davy Crockett watch on his wrist still ticking. From her vantage point, Helen could see the second hand going round and round, measuring something different, now, than the hours of the boy’s life. She saw his mother – a head of closely cropped, dark hair that reminded Helen of a chickadee’s cap – she saw that mother weeping, raging, wrapped in a blanket the medics had provided in an effort to stop her shaking. She saw the mother’s friend weeping with her, saying over and over in a voice coarsened by grief, “You still have Sarah. You still have Sarah.” Helen knew that what the mother would also have – equally, if not more – would be the loss of her son. For weeks, she had obsessed about the drowning, trying to understand the how and the why of it in order to dislodge the knot of pain it had created in her chest. Nothing helped, not her parents’ explanation, not prayer, not the diversion of friends and play. Nothing helped until the day she took a tablet and pencil into the basement and moved the event out of her and onto the paper, where it was reshaped into a kind of simple equation: loss equaled the need to love again, more. With this, she was given peace.
And this is why I always, always encourage my clients to journal : )