I just finished a beautiful book called ‘The Bright Hour’ by Nina Riggs, it’s the memoir of Riggs, a woman from Greensboro, NC who is battling breast cancer. From the beginning you know the book was published after her death.
There’s no way out – no surprises. This person, whose story you’re going to become deeply invested in, will die and it will be at far too young of an age. She’ll leave behind two young sons and a grieving husband.
Along the way she’ll guide you through radiation treatments, tough conversations about her disease with her young sons, watching her mom die of another form of cancer and all of the ways she travels from anger to sadness to pure joy in the moments that she has left.
There’s a chapter that made me put down my book and call my mom just to talk. She doesn’t even know it. It’s impossible to read about such loss and not wonder about your own loved ones – and it’s unbearable to ignore that sentiment.
On my way to work, I’ve been listening to a podcast called ‘Terrible, Thanks for asking’. It’s as dark as it sounds. Host Nora McInerny lost her husband to brain cancer when he was in his 30s. She weaves her own journey through his death in with interviews of others who’ve experienced similarly tragic loss – drug addictions, cancer, brain aneurysm and more.
Most days, I find myself weeping on my way to work as McInerny dives into deeply personal stories about figuring out how to continue to live in a world where someone so important no longer does.
McInerny explores life and death in a way that makes many of us uncomfortable.
She asks guests to share stories of the people they’ve lost – who they were, why they mattered and even how they died. She speaks openly about deceased people whose names even some of the people who actually knew them are too afraid to mention in the aftermath of their loss.
Sometimes the gut reaction when someone we know loses a loved one is often to try to avoid bringing it up – to avoid interrupting whatever peace they might’ve found in the days since.
McInerny beautifully understands that peace doesn’t come from pretending those people never existed – or a fear of saying their name. Sometimes the best response is to ask how they’re doing and be comfortable with hearing “I’m terrible, thanks for asking.”
I can’t stop listening to McInerny’s podcast, because she’s dissecting something so final, and painful in a way that helps me understand that peace, or whatever semblance of it people in mourning can find, comes from being able to share the person they’ve lost and having people who are ready to hear about them.
I’ve surrounded myself with death in an, admittedly, superficial way. I’m not dealing with it as intimately as many people around me. I can’t compare teary car rides to the actual impact of tragedy.
But there’s something ethereal about listening. There’s grace and power in empathy.
You can find McInerny’s podcast at this link or download it in the podcasts app on your iPhone.
You can buy Riggs’ book at this link (or a Barnes & Noble store)