Griefland by Armen D Bacon and Nancy Miller

by Armen D. Bacon & Nancy Miller
skirt!, 2012

Was I aware of others’ grief before Facebook? Probably not. Each day in my news feed I skim over posts claiming a loved one has died or that it is the anniversary of a death. I see requests for prayers and protests of unfathomable deaths (accident/victim/children) linked to news media sites. Before Facebook, I thought about death and grief at funerals, and social media has taught me that all I can do is type “I’m sorry for your loss” and probably not mean it or skip the post because I don’t do prayers (and I’m not sure how typing “prayers!!!” is the same as praying…). Armen D. Bacon and Nancy Miller have introduced me in their co-authored nonfiction book Griefland to the concept of unanticipated reminders of death in the lives of mourners.

The form alone kept me engaged; tiny minute-by-minute sections suggest survival after trauma is one second at a time. Each section begins with an e-mail from Nancy to Armen, or vice versa, two women who have each lost a child (Armen’s son Alex and Nancy’s daughter Rachel) to drug addiction-related deaths. When Armen confesses to a therapist she wants her life back, the therapist, “a voice,” reminds her, “This IS your life.” Once there is grief, there is no “old life,” a big lesson Griefland teaches.

On they go, Armen and Nancy, women who were unacquainted prior to the deaths of their children. Part of their grief involves imagination:

‘I wonder what those two rascals [Rachel and Alex] are up to,’ Nancy would one day write, in a midnight e-mail.

‘They might be dancing,’ [Armen] would reply.

To write something so interior, and to write it to another person, and to do this over the course of months, is bravery.

There are days of breakdown, the kind that are harder to understand, but fascinating (from a reader’s point of view) to follow. When Nancy’s nail polish is chipped, she breaks: “For me, it was a full-blown emergency. I cannot bear losing one more piece of myself. I cannot stomach seeing one more thing chipping, falling, or peeling off me…”

Both women come to learn there are no rules for grieving, which sends a message of hope in this book. We wonder in bad times when things will return to normal, when we will “be better, as if we know what that means, as if we believe ourselves to be unchanging creatures with emotional homeostasis. Really, the sense of self solidified is a dream, Griefland suggests: “In time people will need to know are okay, so they can return safely to their own lives, confident that nothing like this could ever happen to them….”

*Review originally published in JMWW

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