When a book offers brilliant perspective on grief and coming back to ourselves…
Updated: Oct 3, 2020
If you have not read UNBREAK MY HEART by Lauren Blakely please return either when you have had a chance to read the book, or return for my next post!
I am incredibly sick at the moment, the colds and flu this winter in my area have been relentless and vicious. I don’t tend to get sick readily, but when I do I often get quite sick – and this time round it is so bad I have actually taken time off work, farmed out grocery shopping to a good friend (thank you Dawn!), and had to stay at home while other people walked Cully for me (thank you!). So, as I am housebound and quite horizontal with illness I have also had time to catch up on my pleasure reading. These are the books that I read for fun, because I enjoy them as opposed to the books that I read for work, because I enjoy them. And so I genuinely wasn’t expecting to be sitting down today whilst sniffling madly and fighting the vestiges of a fever to write a book review, but most unexpectedly here we are. Fair warning, I will probably not be too academic, but enthusiastic nonetheless.
I refuse to call romance novels (the second biggest selling genre of books beaten only by self-help, by the way) a ‘guilty pleasure’ because I concur with USA author JR Ward: why feel guilty about something that you enjoy? Frankly, life is too short to be stupid about apologising for what we like in life (what we like that is harmless, let’s not get too carried away!). One writer I enjoy is Lauren Blakely, and her latest Unbreak My Heart was looking like a great convalescence novel so I sat down in a sun puddle in bed this morning, Cully at my side, pillows propping me up, tissues and tea at the ready, and was fully prepared to be entertained with some well-crafted, enjoyable escapist writing. Fast forward to later this morning (yes, I read three times faster than average; there are good reasons I devour books of all sorts and make a brilliant researcher…) and I had smiled, nodded, and wept a fair bit because Ms Blakely has written about grief and some of the effects, as well as some of the ways we bring ourselves through the worst and begin to live in the ‘after’ of a death.
What moved me in particular is that this book takes place well after the death, four months to be exact, and the central characters are moving towards the periphery of the space where the initial numbness of grief and loss is all that is felt and experienced. I appreciate the way that the characters in this book work towards trying to catch themselves and each other – not always successfully, and not always well, which is pretty much how we move around in grief, mourning, and loss in the real world – in the aftermath of a death. There is a simplicity and directness in much of the phrasing and writing in this book that made me stop and take a breath to acknowledge what was on the page. Each of the individual characters are permitted their own relationship and story with Ian, the man who has died. Each of the characters is permitted their own space, time to express what is important to them, and time to come to their own conclusions and realisations.
I like, too, that there is an acknowledgement of what ‘strangers’ generally will or will not ask/say, and what a relief it is when someone comes out and asks a direct question or talks about the dead person. I did smile quietly to myself when I reached the end of the book as there are many conversations about death, dying, grief, and loss in this book.
Yes, this is a romance novel so there is a happy, tidy-ish ending (that’s one of the reasons I enjoy this sort of book in my spare time), and yes, we could argue that there has not been enough time that has passed in the arc of the book for the characters to have grown, connected, and realised all that they did. But let me hold something up for consideration of fiction here – this book is a reflection of an idealised life because that is essentially and hopefully what novels do for us… we are given permission to consider the world and our experiences through the lens of other people. Unbreak My Heart allowed me to empathise, consider, laugh at, roll my eyes at, and stop and think about relationships with the dead, with the living after the dead are gone but we have material connections that are happy ones, and how our personal and intimate communities shift, grow, and change our lives after a death. This book may not be your cup of fiction tea, but there is an extraordinary depth of observation and food for reflection if you are wondering what grief and relationships may look and feel like after the first wave of loss begins to recede. I had not expected an enriched morning, and I am happy to have been wrong. If you enjoy accessing alternative perspectives on the subject of grief rather than doing the scholarly read, then I highly recommend this book.
If you are working through your own loss, or preparing for the death of someone you know, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I am a former somatic psychotherapist who specialises in information transfer, consumer advocacy about your rights around End Of Life, and an exceedingly good listener.