When my father died in 2006, I was sixteen years old. At the time, I could not comprehend the years ahead or how I would survive them. Now, almost seven years later, I no longer have to fear those years; I have lived them. Time passes, that's what it does best. What time does not do well is heal. I am still grieving my father. A process that, in American culture and probably many others, is viewed as a transitory stage of life--that of grief and mourning--is ongoing, for me. My life stopped on the day he died. I feel I am always that girl hearing for the first time that her father is dead. I still feel the shock of it. I still let out a sob in the middle of the night when I think about the fact that he no longer exists and never will again. A part of me never wants to stop feeling the pain. Life should not make sense without him. I will never be the same and I need to acknowledge that.
Even though he died several years ago it was not until 2012 that I had access to any kind of grief counseling, which helped me immensely. Counseling gave me a way to approach and think about grief. It was therapeutic to talk about my father to someone and to admit how devastating his death truly was for me. I think, in many ways, those counseling sessions set me on this path and planted the idea of exploring the subject of grief in a more in-depth and specific way.
What is "The Grief Project"? It's what I'm calling my year-long mission to read and review books about grief and mourning. I will read memoirs, poetry, and various non-fiction texts that situate grief on a national and cultural level. I want to examine not just the personal dimensions of grief, but the literary and social contours of it. Why do we write about grief? How do we write about grief? Do these narratives shape the grieving process itself? Do the narratives help or hinder us in our own attempts to mourn the ones we have lost? I have these questions, and I also have concerns.
For me, grief was complicated by the fact that I was poor and had no access to therapeutic resources, like counseling, for many years. I was also isolated and lacked any kind of social support to help me cope with trauma. This is just one lens through which I will read these books. I will think about class, gender, and the voices that are privileged in grief literature. Many of the books I'm reading are written by women and this intrigues me a great deal. How do women write their grief? How does writing help in the grieving process? Also, what does a reader get out of reading books about grief? I'm interested not only in the memoirs and books themselves but in the reaction of the audience that connects to them. Do the books alter our view of grief or change how we grieve?
Ultimately, I will ask: What is the role of literature in grief and mourning? What can it offer us that no other art form can? I don't know if this question has an answer. I suspect it has many answers and they all depend upon the individuals who seek out grief literature for their own personal reasons. I am reading these books in order to make a connection with people who understand what it's like to experience a devastating loss. I also want to find a way to describe my own grief. For me, loss has been an ineffable experience. I have struggled to find the words. I've even wondered if there are any words at all. Maybe, in my case, there are none. Nevertheless, I intend to read the words of those who have articulated loss. I look forward to sharing what I discover on this blog.