I know of two books published in 2002 that dealt with the death a child in a young family’s life. In the stories, the children are different in ages and gender, the cause of death is different, the grieving process is different; one book is fiction, the other a true story.
In both books, I found many similarities in processing the loss of a child. Both books reflect the belief that there truly is life after death on both sides of the equation; for the departed and for those left behind. The fiction book is called The Lovely Bones and is now a major motion picture; the true story is my story and is called Letters to My Son.
In 2002, I routed my book to many book stores excited to share my first book, the magnum opus of my life, the story of my son’s death and that of a family’s long road to healing and recovery from that devastating loss. My book was a best-seller in our small town bookstore of Hastings, and was 2nd in sales only to Harry Potter! I did some readings and many signings at the bookstore that first year, and I got to know to know Grace, the owner of The Hungry Mind Bookstore, fairly well.
One day, following an event Grace pulled me aside and handed me a book. She said “this just came out recently and it’s not for sale yet, but I was sent this preview copy. Would you like it?” She also stated that she had started the book, but that it was pretty graphic in places and she thought it was downright weird but according to her “right up my alley” with my talk of signs that I believe that we can receive from our loved ones who has passed (whispers of love).
She was correct that it was right up my alley; I loved the book. She was also correct it was violent and graphic in the sense its opening pages began with the descriptive murder of 14-year-old girl.
I read the book back then and have now recently seen the movie. I liked them both and recommend either for anyone who has lost a child. It will bring tears but what does not? There will be tears of horror, tears of empathy, tears of remembrance, tears of revived pain, tears of the joy of discovery, tears of recognition, and tears of relief that we are not crazy. Although this book/movie is fictional, the reality of our children’s spirit connecting with us left behind is not. It happens and it happens a lot.
In 1979, the movie “The Amityville Horror” was released, and was soon be followed by the movie “Poltergeist” in 1982 and “Ghostbusters” in 1984. All three of these films did damage to our cultures view of life after death as the afterlife was conveyed as one of great horror, fear and unrest. It wasn’t until 1990, with the release of the movie “Ghost,” did we find a movie depicting ghosts as loving spirits. “Ghost” stirred quite an awareness and curiosity about the very real possibility of life after death and even the validity of mediums. By 1995, three mediums emerged nationally and word wide that took the nation’s media by storm: Sylvia Brown, James Van Praagh and John Edward. Their books and appearances fueling even more interest in the afterlife.
In 1998 the movie “What Dreams May Come” was released with Robin Williams, then in 2004 “The Five People You Meet In Heaven” was released both movies similar in the fact they were trying to convey a vivid imagery of the afterlife. The movies also raised some heated religious controversy as well.
A few years later in 2007 the release of the book “The Shack” stirred the country’s curiosity again once again about the reality of life after death, as well as a very real glimpse into the horror and pain of losing a child in one’s life.
I think the movie/book “The Lovely Bones” is the most compelling for the bereaved parent and sibling, as it dramatically illustrates the different journeys the loss of child can take the parent on as they together and individually try to process the unspeakable, the death of their child. They experience complicated grief with their daughter’s death being an unsolved murder involving police activity, media coverage and endless court dates.
It shows a dad’s obsession to find the killer, a mom’s struggle to accept the reality of their daughter’s absence in their lives, and the forgotten mourners, the siblings, floundering in the middle. They eventually discover that by NOT letting go and in reality embracing the spirit of their child and sibling, they found true healing in their lives. The happy American family was ripped apart, never to be the same again. But they discovered hope in the truth that life is eternal and that every end is a new beginning.
The novel’s title stems from a line toward the end of the novel, in which Susie (the child murdered) ponders her friends’ and family’s newfound strength after her death: “These were the lovely bones that had grown around my absence: the connections — sometimes tenuous, sometimes made at great cost, but often magnificent — that happened after I was gone.”
The title The Lovely Bones sounds at first like a disturbing oxymoron, but the author does describe well her meaning in metaphor, and I do find it concus with my own thoughts about the death of a loved one. In has been 22 years since my son died and some magnificent things have happened in my life and countless other lives that are directly related to his passing and the all-consuming grief for our great loss.
We cannot change what has transpired but we can change the world that we have left as we live our loss, embrace our loved one’s spirit and process our grief proactively. Changing the world in a positive way, keeping my son’s legacy alive with my actions, embracing the moment, speaking from my heart and showing compassion to all in need are the lovely bones in my grief journey. What are yours?
“The most difficult thing, but an essential one is to love life. To love it even while one suffers, because life is all…” –Leo Tolstoy
Mitch CarmodyTags: grief, hope