I am currently taking an elective for graduate school called Death Education. It sounds off-putting and dark, but was described for me as a class that every teacher should take. It also meets for two weekends, so with those two endorsements, instead of trekking up to Teachers College once a week from Brooklyn, I decided to enroll. One of the first topics we discussed together was the emotional impact of loss of any kind: from an object to moving, divorce to faith, confidence to health and of course the death of loved ones.
There is freedom in the angle with which we approach our research assignments and projects, so I am approaching the topic through the lens of what I do: an English teacher. My thinking has been mostly applied to the treatment of death in young adult literature and the impact it has on its readers and my conclusion has been that young adults need to have access to books by trusted authors about death and loss because not only do they teach so much about life and loss. Books I’ve referenced with my students are ones like Bridge to Terabithia, A Monster Calls, Counting by Sevens and the Harry Potter series. Revisiting these titles has taught me so much about grief and emotional endurance and survival, especially as we are dealing with the tragic loss of one of their classmates.
Meanwhile, I just finished reading the highly acclaimed memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala, Wave, which chronicles her story of grief after losing her two sons, husband, and both parents in the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. It is a story of such weight that I feel inept to say anything except I find it important to read and understand the stories of individuals alongside the over arching stories of the tsunami as a whole. In the same way that the young adult literature I have studied provides resources for my students, this book walks its reader through loss at its most intense–and rather than feeling like a voyeur of someone else’s hurt, it caused me to connect deeply with what it means to be human and I’m deeply grateful for Deraniyagala’s strength to share this story with us. It was as significant a read to me as Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking.
At this point, all I can say is I’m thankful.
I am thankful to authors who courageously write through their experience and share it so readers can be changed by their examination and process. I am thankful to authors whose writing enables me to understand humanity: my own and that of each of the living souls around me. I am thankful to authors who write about the hardest things so I can glean some of their courage when I face them myself. I am thankful to story and its ability to help us heal.