Bereft: How to Deal with the Death of Someone You Love

When getting over it isn't an option, is literature the best way to understand the loss of somebody close?

Credit: Rennett Stowe

Memorials to the roadside dead enshrine our grief at loss

We all know that death is inevitable, but it’s one of those truths we try our best to avoid.

The possibility that the people we love can come to grief simply crossing the street, getting behind the wheel, sitting at the kitchen table, or laying themselves down to sleep, seems an ungraspable fact.

We prefer to live as if we will live forever, and why not? Sixty-year-old men sign up for 35-year mortgages, a scheme to which banks cheerfully agree. “See you,” we say casually to spouses, lovers, girlfriends, or, in some momentary snit, we turn away without saying goodbye, maybe forever. Credit cards, monthly payment plans, buy now and pay later: all resting on the assumed continuance of those who sign up.

What Not to Say to Someone in Grief

When self-described Vancouver shit-disturber Jean Baird’s 23-year-old daughter Bronwyn came to grief in a car accident, there was no solace in the self-help books Baird read obsessively. Friends’ well-meaning comments — some suggested that since Baird had another grown son, it wasn’t as bad as if Bronwyn had been an only child — only made it worse.

Baird finally found solace in literary work on death and mourning, which inspired her and husband George Bowering, a prolific writer and editor in his own right, to edit The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning.

Truths about Dealing with Death

In the course of their work, Baird and Bowering learned some essential truths about death and dying. Clichés don’t help, Bowering writes in the introduction: in fact, they’re insulting to the bereaved. Baird agrees. “I don’t like the word healing,” she points out. “It suggests you have a disease.”

It’s not about the dead person, she says: it’s about you, and how you learn to fill that hole. That, in essence, is the theme tackled by the contributors to The Heart Does Break.

A Collection about Mourning

The book contains pieces from well-known and emerging authors. Mothers and fathers are a prominent theme, although Victoria author Joan Givner’s piece, “On Preparing My Daughter’s Fiction for Posthumous Publication” is a standout.

Jean and George will be at the Vancouver Public Library the night of May 10 — I’ll be introducing them — and contributors from the book Stephen Reid, Renee Rodin, and Anne Stone will read. Details about the event are here.