In 2002, the renowned author Ann Hood lost her five year old daughter Grace to a rapid, freak, strep infection. A novel, The Knitting Circle (2004) and a memoir, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief ( 2008) stand as testaments to that loss, and are gifts to everyone who has or will suffer in kind.
CG: Some people who have lost a child have found books helpful and cathartic. But to a great extent, words failed you immediately after Grace’s loss. Why do you think some people are helped by reading/writing of others experiences, and others not?
AH: As a professional writer, writing was impossible because I could only view it with a writer’s eye. I think journaling or writing your own loss story can help healing if you are not constantly editing, reviewing and dissecting like a writer would.
CG: What, if anything, has changed for you since publishing the Knitting Circle, then Comfort – finally addressing in words what was unspeakable. Have you had a great response from those in similar situations?
I’ve received literally thousands of emails expressing the very thing I hoped the books would accomplish: validating the feelings of grief. You are not crazy. You are not alone. You are heartbroken.
CG: You open the book with the comments you are forced to endure: people telling you what to do, how to respond to your tragedy. But some bereaved parents judge those who kept their distance after hearing of a still birth. Others prefer to be left alone, like a wounded animal, fearing the force of their rage will make them incapable of monitoring a response. If there was one thing you could tell the world to do for a person who has lost a child, what is it, if anything?
Don’t presume to know what we are feeling. When someone says ‘I can imagine how you feel,’ — it’s almost insulting, though not intended as such. It is true that losing a child is one’s worst fear. And it is unimaginable. Better to listen to how we feel than to tell us how we must feel, or how you would feel.
CG: You’ve written of the intense joy you experience while holding your new adopted Chinese daughter, Annabelle, while concurrently, and equally intensely, still feeling the anguish of losing Grace.
AH: Every day I am struck by feelings of joy beside my grief. Even in small things: laughing with a friend, the satisfaction of completing a project, a beautiful day. Yet all of it is juxtaposed against losing Grace, against her absence. C.S. Lewis wrote about the death of his wife: her absence is like the sky. It covers everything.
Ann Hood’s new novel, The Red Thread, will be published by W.W. Norton in May.
“I have been there. I am the one woman standing in the street on a Thanksgiving afternoon, screaming and pulling out my hair. That is my mother coming out the door, yelling my name. That is me, running from her, running down the beautiful street where houses wear plaques announcing how old and important they are. That is me making that sound which is both inhuman and guttural and the most human sound a persona can make: the sound of grief … That is me running, zigzagging, trying to escape what is inescapable: Grace is dead.”
Copyright 2008, Ann Hood, Comfort, A Journey Through Grief.