Losing Someone Young

One question I'm asked quite regularly is whether or not Losing Faith, and the loss of a sister, was based at all on real life. Well, no, not exactly. But it did have some roots in real life.

When I was sixteen, one of my best friends lived halfway across the country from me in Colorado. I've lived just outside Vancouver for all of my life, and we met when this friend of mine lived in Seattle. Our families were friends and camped together regularly for years. We had nicknames for each other - she thought salt and vinegar chips sounded like the most disgusting thing in the world, because they didn't have them in Washington at the time, so she always called me some variation of that--Vin, S&V, etc. I called her Funyuns, because we didn't have those little crunchy, curly things in Canada.

When their family decided to make the move to Colorado, it was a big change, but my friend and I were determined to keep in touch. This was before the world of email, and so we wrote each other long, handwritten letters about every detail of our daily lives. Some of our letters would be fifteen pages or longer! But I started to worry when I didn't get a letter from my friend for a long time.

I worried even more when I got a letter from her parents.

My friend had been killed by a drunk driver, and at sixteen, I didn't have much of a grid with how to process the death of a friend. The death of someone who I should have had a lot of years left with. I was angry and confused. I had so many questions, and I felt like all I could do was numb myself to those questions because there were no answers. Certainly no simple ones.


A little later in life, in my early twenties, I worked for a church that was made up largely of youth. This was not your average church - it was filled with passionate people who were seriously hurting or had been hurt. Many didn't have homes to go back to. Many had lost someone close. They would come into the service and let all their pain out through singing or dancing or sometimes just by sitting against a wall with their eyes closed.

The thing is, when they left that place, there was often more peace. I don't know for sure that they were all getting answers, but they were leaving there with something...new. And they weren't leaving there numb. I always looked back and wondered how I might have processed my friend's death differently if I'd had a better way to get it all out. Or if I'd believed in something bigger than myself.

I think this is one of the reasons I love reading about loss in books. Some of my recent favorites are THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson, ALL UNQUIET THINGS by Anna Jarzab, and FREEFALL by Mindi Scott. I love to see the different ways that the characters process their loss. I think this is such a big subject, and in some ways I'm still processing.

Have you experienced the death of someone close? What helped you deal with it? Did it change your beliefs at all? Do you have any favorite books that deal with loss and grief?


9 comments:

Micol Ostow said...

Unfortunately, I was just talking about death this morning - a friend of mine is currently helping her boyfriend cope with the death of his father. We were talking about how everyone's grief is different. In my life, I was very close to my grandparents - our whole family was. When my grandmother died (about 5 years ago), our whole family was pretty much shattered. Not everyone's families are as tightly-knit as ours, so some people didn't "get" why losing someone older, someone who'd been "expected" to die, was still so traumatic.

I think losing someone is always hard.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

My first novel, Rain Is Not My Indian Name--which focuses on a healing journey after a sudden death--was published by Harper in 2001, so I've had some time over the life of the book to get a feel for reader reactions.

I don't get nearly as much mail about it as my more recent books, but the letters I get tend to be some of the most personal. "I know how Rain felt when she didn't want to go to the funeral..." "I'm glad Aunt Georgia didn't push her..." That sort of thing.

In my experience with the death of a peer as an adolescent, I found myself so busy reassuring the grown-ups I was all right that I didn't take much time to let myself process what had happened.

I think for a lot of kids, living that "perfect" childhood means pretending that nothing is wrong, no matter what.

I think writers write stories, and I'm not entirely comfortable with prescribed bibliotherapy. But I do think that a book can provide comfort and perspective in a way that the real people in your life sometimes can't.

Lois D. Brown said...

Reading and writing are great ways to deal with grief. I'm glad you found this outlet, and you do it well.

Mrs. DeRaps said...

I lost my best friend when I was in the third grade. There have been other funerals in my life, but this was my first and has left this weirdness in my life. I think I just look at life and death differently because I lost someone close to me when I was so young.

writerjenn said...

My first book, The Secret Year, is all about grieving a sudden loss. Yes, I used real emotions, if not real, literal circumstances, in the book. Ironically, a good friend of mine died just days before the book came out, and although it's a different kind of loss than the one in my book, some things about grief are just universal, and I've been experiencing certain things all over again in parallel with my main character. Which is strange, but in a way this is the kind of comfort books can bring--the knowledge that we're not alone.

One of my favorite books on grieving from recent years is John Green's Looking for Alaska. From my own childhood: The Ballad of T. Rantula, by Kit Reed.

Claire Dawn said...

My best friend dies when I was 14. We'd been best friends since we were 4, lost touch, and been best friends again. Seemed like it was a forever friendship.

It broke me when he died. I think I will write about it some day.

I also love loss books. My fave is Jay Asher's Th1rteen R3asons Why.

Melissa Walker said...

A friend died in a scuba-diving accident when we were 21, and it really shook my core. I felt invincible all that time... and then, suddenly, I didn't anymore. I would have learned that lesson soon anyway, but I wish it had come a different way.

Truth Be Told Blog said...

I haven't read Losing Faith but it is on my TBR list. Some of my favorite books on loss are Freefall, Kissed by an Angel and Chasing Brooklyn. Even though Chasing Brooklyn and Kissed by an Angel deal with paranormal stuff I think they both have a great message.

Adeeva Afsheen said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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