Our Reading Lives

How Reading (And Faeries) Changed the Way I Looked at Grief

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Abby Jamison

Staff Writer

Abby Jamison, a graduate from the University of Missouri- Kansas City and a full-time Editor, lives in Kansas City, MO with her partner and two cats. She enjoys reading YA novels, writing her always-in-progress novel and posting about her life on Instagram. You can find her at @abbsjay and @bookwhimsies.

When I was 10, I believed in faeries. And I didn’t just believe in them, I lived and breathed them. I owned every Spiderwick Chronicles book, the field guides and more. I was prepared for the faerie uprisings destined to occur, I talked to the flowers in my neighbor’s yard because I knew they were actually pixies disguised as flowers. I believed in them so fiercely, because they came from my very first love: books. And I trusted them with my life.

My belief in the faerie world did eventually get squashed by 6th grade boys with bad attitudes, and although it devastated my mom to see me aging out of my childhood passion, I got over the loss pretty quickly. I dove into more realistic stories instead, reading about love and coming of age and beautiful, idealized people.

Truthfully, I owe it to my parents for being big readers and for feeding into my book addiction. I have always been a romantic; my whole life I’ve found my sense of self between the pages of books. Every story I wrote (circa 2008: a misunderstood girl has to fight the evil faeries to get her long-lost father back), despite different circumstances (circa 2009: a 5th grader’s knock-off of A Series of Unfortunate Events, minus the Unfortunate Events, since I’m a romantic), had a girl a lot like me: wanting to find a purpose, a passion, and love.

And at least subconsciously, I knew my life would come into fruition as I aged and I found comfort in not worrying too much about what my life would look like, just that it would all work out the way it’s supposed to. I got that lesson from books, too. And despite everything my books taught me (empathy, courage, non-conformity, compassion, etc.), they can only prepare you so much.

When my dad died two years ago, I didn’t read a thing. Reading for me is either indulgent or confrontational, and I didn’t feel like I could do either of those things. Grief is a funny thing because I’ve read so many books about it, but never once thought it would happen to me. And even funnier than that is I suddenly couldn’t remember anything those books may have taught me about grief, and instead I stared blankly at the ceiling or watched TV sitcom reruns until my brain turned to mush. It was the first time I felt like my books hadn’t dutifully prepare me for something.

It took me a while, but I did eventually start reading again, as life seems to always bring me back to books when I desperately need them. And at first, I only read books that were not remotely close to what was happening in my own life. But then these special books, these magical, mystical, life-altering gems started slipping into my life and changing the way I looked at myself, and particularly my grief.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCourIt started with We Are Okay by Nina Lacour. I am slightly biased, because I have always loved and admired Nina’s writing, but this book (and its beautiful cover) planted itself in my life and I read it in one sitting. Although the way the main character handles her grief was different than mine, her pain felt like mine, and the inevitability of it all felt so familiar it made me feel seen. It was the first grief related book I picked up after my dad’s passing, and it opened up a flood gate of emotional handlings I didn’t know I needed. I keep that book on full display in my living room, as a gentle reminder that we really are, okay.

And then, The Smell Of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. This book took my heart in its hands and cradled it. It looked at how broken I was and kissed me on the forehead. This book grabbed my fragile heart by the shoulders and said, “life sucks but it’s also beautiful.” And that was enough, and I realized that’s all I had needed from something, was to tell me how messy and dark and scary life can get, but somehow it’s still beautiful.

What I’m getting at is this: Books, somehow, in the midst of my own undoing, reminded me why I believed in faeries just 10 years before; because they made me feel like the world is so much more than it is. And not just that, but that I, in my seemingly limited life, could find magic.

I’m still figuring out my grieving process. There are months where I know I’m not coping the way I should, but reading is an amazing, emotional rollercoaster, and in avoiding it I am making it clear to myself that I know that whatever literary journey I’d partake on would teach me something I’m stubbornly trying to avoid. I may not still believe that faeries are hiding among us (okay, maybe I do a little), but I’m working on rediscovering that joy and magic that I found in those stories. What I do know is this: despite the hard stuff or the pressure of life, books reminded me that other’s stories, whether fictional or not, are healing and shared experiences make the world a better place.