Author finds community with book on young daughter’s death
Jayson and Stacy Greene speak of grief matter-of-factly and calmly, as it’s something they’ve come to know intimately since the tragic death of their 2-year-old daughter, Greta, in 2015.
“I wouldn’t say that the work is complete because I don’t think it ever is when you’re grieving,” Stacy Greene said.
Greta was sitting outside on a bench with her grandmother in New York’s Upper West Side when she was struck by a falling piece of a windowsill. She was rushed to the emergency room where she died.
As an editor at online music magazine Pitchfork, writing was a natural outlet for Jayson Greene. “I always wanted to write a book,” he said, but he didn’t know the first one would be so personal. What started as journal entries turned into something more six months after Greta’s death.
“Once More We Saw Stars” is a memoir about the aftermath of their daughter’s death and the experience of coping with grief.
While the death of a young child is a dark and difficult journey to take a reader on, Greene says it was important to him that the reader felt safe.
“If I’m going to write a book about this, I need it to be bearable and readable without being false or untrue in some way,” he said.
He took inspiration from Paul Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” and Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” for their ability to provide a “window” into the world of death and “tell the truth without sort of howling it at you.”
“I think that there were books I opened up where I didn’t feel safe with the narrator,” Greene said. “I’m stepping into this person’s wound rather than into their story, and it felt dangerous in a way that I was careful to avoid.”
Since the book’s publication in May, the couple have been moved by the outpouring of support from readers.
“We’ve heard from lots of people, particularly people who’ve lost children, who’ve said, ‘Thank you for articulating what it was that I was feeling,’ and that’s an incredible thing,” Greene said.
He said the book has also provided them with a sense of community.
“I feel like the book has been sort of this beautiful extension where people have reached out that are this extended part of this community that we would have never otherwise reached,” Stacy Greene said. “I’ve been grateful that we’ve had these connections to these readers who are fellow bereaved people or people who are in some way connected to the grief that we experienced.”
One person they heard from after the book release was a particular surprise— the parent of a child who received one of Greta’s organs.
“Because our story was in the news, they were very aware that they were receiving one of Greta’s organs and the person actually reached out to us to let us know that their child was alive because of Greta,” Stacy Greene said.
“That was such a closed circle in a way that we never would have imagined,” Jayson Greene said.
Since the book’s publication, they say their lives have changed, but in many ways, they haven’t. On the night of the book release, their 3-year-old son, Harrison, threw a temper tantrum.
“Before we’re leaving like, you know, again, it’s this book about our family and the beauty and Harrison just throws the world’s biggest tantrum,” Greene says with a laugh. “And Stacy’s putting on makeup and she looks, and he’s screaming, and she’s like, ‘Cherish every moment.'”
The tantrum ended, but Greene says that life is “just as real as it was before.”
They still have to juggle with school out for the summer, and they still make “the same mistakes,” like letting Harrison stay up too late.
But what has changed is the way they talk about Greta.
“Before the book published, what we had to tell people about Greta was something so awful: Our daughter died. She died meaninglessly and violently in an accident. She was 2,” Greene said. “And now what I say is, ‘I wrote a book about my daughter. It’s called ‘Once More We Saw Stars.'”
If readers of his memoir take away anything, he hopes that it is this: “It’s possible to live your life, not just survive, but to live. It was possible for us, it is possible.”
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