Once More We Saw The Stars
Author: Jayson Greene
Reviewed by Patricia Morgenstern
The toddler Greta sits down beside her grandmother on a bench on the upper west side of New York City. In an instant a constellation of lives is forever changed when a piece of a brick windowsill, 8 floors up, breaks off and hits the two-year-old girl in the head.
Jayson, the father who is a talented writer, chronicles his and his wife Stacy’s unimaginable devastation from the initial shock to reverberations months later. His honest exploration of grief with its many faces, its mutations, and its durability belies standard descriptions.
At first, “Having exited the blaze of grief, we now find ourselves flattened by its drudgery…there always remains the chance that things will revert back to ‘normal’ if only you have the strength to endure it.” But Stacy sometimes asks plaintively, “Haven’t we done this long enough? Can’t we have her back now?” And Jayson wonders, “What do you call parents who lose their children? We have orphans, widows and widowers.” But “A group of people whose children have died doesn’t have a name.”
Again, Jayson observes, “By the second month, the overwhelming urge to die…subsides to an ache,”…like something I simply carry around with me, like hay fever.” He calls it “suicidal despair”.
“Grief, I am learning, is a world you move into—a world of softer voices, gentler gazes, closer observation, heightened compassion. It is, in many ways a beautiful and redemptive place to spend time…”
Six months after the death, the parents attended a week-end workshop on grieving at the Kripalu Institute in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, led by David Kessler, a well-known thanatologist. The 60 attendees took part in yoga sessions and other activities, including interacting with a powerful medium who communicated with the lost loved ones of several of the people present.
In one exercise those present were asked to write a letter to the loved one. Jayson wrote his, explaining what had happened to Greta. David quickly uncovered the father’s anger and demonstrated with him and others how that emotion is a natural and, if openly expressed, healthy part of the grieving process.
After the workshop the couple decided the standard advice to make no major decisions for a year was worthless and began searching for a different apartment, which they found in about 6 months, shortly after Stacy became pregnant. The couple resumed their regular yoga schedule but Greta was never far from memory. Jayson writes, “my inability to see [memories] clearly feels alarmingly like forgetting.”
But, of course, there was no forgetting. Jayson found he needed to scream from time to time to relieve his grief, and he found safe times and places in the city where he could let those wails go.
“Now that our public grief rituals have faded from view, we’ve been forced to come up with private ones like these…and our private grief rituals are weird: warped and inexplicable.” Other members of their family also showed signs of unresolved grief, including alcohol abuse and constant arguing. Family relationships that were already frayed tore apart.
Jayson and Stacy tried another a grief support group in order to “integrate their healing and their grief into their daily lives.” The leader turned out to lack compassion and have her own agenda.
“Her posture and tone resemble a mob boss softening up a mark—‘I like you Eddie’—just before snuffing him out.”
Fortunately, the parents soon had an opposite experience in Taos, New Mexico, where a shaman led them on profound, healing journeys, some of which were out-of-body events such as those described by the late anthropologist Carlos Castaneda. Afterwards Jayson especially seemed more reconciled to the permanence of his loss.
When Stacy became pregnant the parents introduced the baby to his sister, making sure Greta would become a part of his life even before he arrived. Jayson explained, “During the first year, the year of her death, the emptiness was overwhelming, and we constantly sought her out. Now we are being filled by the deafening song of [baby]Harrison’s ongoing existence.”
Ye their grieving never really ends. “Bouts of blinding anger…still overwhelm me occasionally. I am learning to accept them, to live with this endless cycle of remission and metasis. I am allowed to be angry forever, I tell…myself again and again. I am allowed to be confused forever.”