Having a Kindle Paperwhite has allowed me to read many books in just the past month that I've been breastfeeding. It's a lot easier to hold than a print book, the baby is not distracted by the noise of turning pages, and I can easily read books at 3 a.m. without turning on any lights.
One book I recently read (and finished at 3 a.m. as often seems to be the case) is Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. It is a memoir of a woman who lost her husband, both her sons, and her parents when the tsunami hit Sri Lanka where they were vacationing on December 26, 2004.
I vaguely remember hearing about this tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people across many countries in the Indian Ocean. But as sad as such a news story is, if it doesn't directly effect you, you quickly forget it. As Annie Dillard said, "It hurts more to break a leg."
Wave tells the story of what happened to her family, and of the grief that followed. She is brutally honest about her feelings and her actions in the years following her loss. She doesn't sugarcoat the crazy things she did or the angry thoughts she had about other people. And she addresses things that made her feel guilty--like the fact that she didn't grieve for her parents' loss for a few years because she was so caught up in grieving for her sons and her husband. Something that most people grieving for the death of a loved one don't have to deal with because we usually face them one at a time.
This book made me think about grief and how we all deal with it. A couple of weeks ago marked the 4th year anniversary of my father's death from lung cancer. Two days before that an old acquaintance who touched hundreds of lives died. One day before that my great-uncle died. It was a tough week.
But I have something that Deraniyagala doesn't seem to--a belief in God and faith that we will one day be reunited with our lost loved ones. Knowing that doesn't mean you don't miss them or think it's unfair that they are gone. But when Deraniyagala spoke of her lost family, she kept stating that they were gone and she had to remember that. No hopes or thoughts of a future reunion. No comfort in knowing her family is together. How terribly bleak death must be without that faith.
I do not mean this next comment to make light of what Deraniyagala went through, but her apparent wealth made the process of dealing with what her family left behind different than what my family experienced at my father's death. Just the fact that her family traveled back and forth between different countries often shows she had a lot more than most. And this fact made it so that she didn't return to her London home until almost four years after her family's death--and it was still her home. My family had to leave the home they shared with my father just weeks after he died. Meaning we, and especially my mother, had to deal with the material things left behind right away rather than waiting years. I can't even begin to say what might be better or worse. She also traveled to new places she'd never been with her family to deal with the emotions she faced at each of her children's birthdays.
Birthdays. My family and I try to take my dad's birthday as a time to celebrate his life and remember him. The family that lives close get together and have a dinner of his favorite things and talk about him. I only rarely think about how old my father would have been. I might reflect on it more on the years he would have been 60 or 70. But losing a child fills each passing birthday with thoughts of how old they would have been, how much they would have grown, and what they would have been doing if only they had lived. I cannot even imagine that pain--especially in losing all your children.
As sad as the story is, I highly recommend the book. It is a very human story and I enjoyed her writing. It's one of those rare occasions when something extraordinary happens to someone and their memoir doesn't need to include the name of the person who actually wrote it. Fair warning, she uses the F word about half a dozen times. I can't say I necessarily blame her based on what she was going through, but I know some people would like to avoid it in the books they read.