Let me share some new thinking about the purpose of the book I produced and recently published, Ann(ie) Blum in Our Lives.
What does it mean to have had Ann—Annie to some—Blum in our lives? The letters and stories from family and friends assembled in this book, together with photos and words of Ann’s own, evoke her presence. They allow us to think about what we want to carry forward, into the lives we still have.
I have been calling it a “memorial book” for Ann. Memorial connotes the way cities erect statues, universities have prizes, etc…. or simply what people say about the departed person at a memorial service.
But that’s not really it. The blog from which the book emerged was my way of allowing many people to have their voice. And for that voice to be one heard by a community, not only by the immediate family receiving the condolence notes.
But why do people need to have their voice heard in a community? Until now I was thinking that, with the blog and now the book, I was giving recognition to the fact that many people are grieving Ann, not just me, her partner of 30 years.
But now I see that the value of people having their voice heard in a community is that we—this includes me—have very partial narratives about what the loss of someone means for their lives. We say something—such as “I so miss her” or “Cancer sucks” or “I’m doing as well as can be expected”—but we know there’s more to what we are feeling. Things that are hard to articulate, things that are hard to know whether this is the person and the time to explore it with. So those things often get left un(der) explored; we just carry on. The book allows, however, readers to bring their own thoughts to the surface through hearing the partial things others are able to say, to give voice to. And also to learn more, which adds to those thoughts. In that way, there is more play, more processing of what each reader wants to carry forward as part of their own lives.
If the book is a memorial, it is a funny kind of memorial in which each person in the community has their own bit of the statue inside them and is nurturing the growth of that always unfinished statuette. (But perhaps I’ll drop that analogy given that it might have connotations of cancer growing inside us.)
So, the book is about it taking a village to… well, I don’t quite yet have the name for what it is the village is doing. It is not grieving as much as enriching our sense of life by making us feel part of a village in which everyone is helping each other value what lives are about—even if it is the impetus of someone’s loss of life that moves us at the given time.
So: It takes a village to raise an adult, for an adult to keep growing.
This insight about what the Ann(ie) Blum book is for is something about responding to loss that I haven’t heard or read others say. But, now I’ll have my ears/eyes open for it, I might notice others saying something similar.
A corollary of this is that grieving might not end with having said goodbye, or with moving on with life, or even with “saying hello again” (as narrative therapist, Michael White proposed in 1988), but when the village appreciates how much its members—including the immediate family—have enriched their sense of life together.
Well, this is my thinking from yesterday and today. Let’s see how the insight looks in light of new days and readers’ responses.