I have loved books and reading since that first Janet and John book in Primary 1. When I was a child, my mum joked I had square eyes because my nose was always buried in a story. (Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five was my favourite!) Until a few years ago, I always had several books on the go; one by my bed, one in the bathroom, one in the kitchen and one in my bag.
And then my husband left me and I could no longer concentrate on the printed page. I tried to, but would find myself reading the same paragraph over and over again, the words refusing to connect with my brain, so I walked away from one of the passions of my life.
Until the last couple of years.
I started getting back into reading by re-reading old favourites – books I have loved for decades: Persuasion by Jane Austen, September and A Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, A Crime of the Heart by Cheryl Reavis, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, A Town Called Alice by Nevil Shute, Atonement by Ian MacEwan, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, John Macnab by John Buchan.
The pace picked up during Covid’s lockdown, until I found myself actually downloading new books on my Kindle. Over the past month I have treated myself to a ‘Reading Day’ once a week, where I stay in my pj’s all day and indulge myself by reading a book from cover to cover.
One of the things I have always loved about reading is illustrated by a quote from Alan Bennett in his play The History Boys. The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met…. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.
And that happened to me this afternoon as I reached the closing chapters of The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. One of the characters is talking to a grieving young widow and she says, ‘You are not the problem: the loss is…
And yes, sadly, no one else can ever understand your loss. It belongs to you. It impacts only you…. They don’t need to understand… But you do. You need to fully appreciate how this has changed you, so that you can indeed move on and live, but as this changed person….’
… It was what she had dreaded hearing.
And it was exactly what she had needed to hear.
The reality is, the only people who will most likely try to minimize the pain of your loss – You should be moving on with your life! – will be the people who have never experienced real loss themselves. Those who have, know it changes you deep inside. Yes, you will move forward. You will build a new life – possibly even a better life – but you will be different.
Grief is okay. It’s healthy.
It means you cared.
Accept that you can’t go back. You are different. You have changed.
You are strong.