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Writing About Grief

Because of this weekend's events, I gave some thought to how one writes about grief.  I couldn't readily come up with examples of convincing writing about grief from literature.  Certainly there's a lot of death, but not much grief.  I'll bet that there are plenty of examples that I don't know about or can't think of now.  Are they all parts of incredibly depressing books, or are there examples of characters emerging from grief?

The time in my life where I believe I grieved the most was when my first marriage ended.  The divorce was my idea, and I took on a terrible grief load for having instigated it.  No one marries, I hope, with the idea that later they will deliver a devastating emotional blow to the closest person in their life.  In my memory, my face hurt from weeks of frowning.  Literally, the muscles in my face ached.  I was sleeping on the floor of a buddy's apartment, and I remember feeling that the aches from sleeping on the floor were appropriate.  My karma wheel had turned with great justice against me.

One of the most effective portrayals of grief I can come up with in film is the beginning of Sleepless in Seattle.  Tom Hanks is very convincing.  After that, my example pool is dry.

Who have you read who has written about grief in fiction?  What are the best examples in literature of characters emerging from grief?
Tomorrow all the teachers are to meet at 6:30 to talk about how to deal with students and the death of Mike Williams.  I'm not looking forward to the meeting or the day. 



( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 7th, 2007 03:33 am (UTC)
the muscles in my face ached - this is so evocative. I know that feeling intimately. Over the past two years, most of what I've written about (when I've had the emotional energy to do so; divorce is still fresh for me) was about grief. It's absolutely cathartic to do so, and I have tried to express what it feels like as best I can.

I hope things go well at your school, and I'm so sorry to hear about your loss.
May. 7th, 2007 03:45 am (UTC)
Thanks for your wishes. My divorce was 21 years ago, and I'm still not sure I could write about it without stirring up some really sharp-edged material for myself.

What I think will happen tomorrow is that a lot of kids will keep what they are feeling bottled up. It will surface later in odd ways.
May. 7th, 2007 03:57 am (UTC)
Nicholas Cage did it fairly well in City of Angels, but he had help from a great Peter Gabriel song in the soundtrack.

In literature, The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler.
May. 7th, 2007 05:21 am (UTC)
Sorry. Been stalking your LJ for a while, and I really appreciate your comments. Just found time to comment, though. Hornby's High Fidelity is my personal favourite in the world of grief.
May. 7th, 2007 05:43 am (UTC)
I remember John Ford as being good about grief, but I don't have specific references.
May. 7th, 2007 05:58 am (UTC)
I recently read Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist, and the book has good examples of fine writing that deals with grief from loss of a child, and grief from a divorce.
May. 7th, 2007 02:37 pm (UTC)
Literature about grief
Sci-Fi writers and readers,
One of my all time favorites is from Ray Bradbury. It is young Douglas Spaulding's attempt to integrate his new found death awareness in "Dandelion Wine." It can be found on pages 142 - 143 in my old paperback copy. It is worth reading. Elizabeth Berg and Ann Tyler both write powerful novels dealing with grief. Ordinary People is a grief and loss story. For children, how can we fail to mention "Where the Red Fern Grows," "Little Women," even the Laura Ingalls Wilder books deal with grief at various times in the series. Many of the Disney movies have a strong thread of sorrow in them. At this time, "Bridge to Terabithia" is still in the theaters. However, it is so powerful that it takes one's breath away, if unprepared. I'll blog later a more complete list, but they're out there, even in the Sci-Fi literature.
May. 7th, 2007 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Literature about grief
Jan, we'll have to get you your own LJ site. It's free and easy (and fun).
May. 7th, 2007 07:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Literature about grief
I do have a live journal ID name, I just forgot to use it,
May. 8th, 2007 12:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Literature about grief
Ha! Great screen name. We'll have to get you to start blogging, then you will truly have joined the dark side *g*.
May. 7th, 2007 03:05 pm (UTC)
James Lee Burke in "Neon Rain" and "Heaven's Prisoners," the first two books in his Dave Robicheaux series. The character, a cop, Vietnam vet, and an alcoholic, loses his wife and pretty much falls into the bottle and wallows there for a while. Sounds like the worst cliche ever, but not in Burke's hands. The man is one of the most poetic writers I've ever read, lyrical and tough at the same time. Gorgeous stuff.
May. 7th, 2007 05:52 pm (UTC)
I don't know him. I'll have to seek him out. Thanks.
May. 7th, 2007 06:02 pm (UTC)
Burke is one of my favorite authors -- his Dave Robicheaux series, set in Louisiana, is tremendous. There are well over a dozen books in the series by now, and although some are better than others, they're all well-written. And the setting...! When my husband and I were in Louisiana (with a friend born and raised there), I felt like I was in the middle of one of Burke's books.
May. 7th, 2007 04:18 pm (UTC)
"Doomsday Book" by Connie Willis is loaded with grief, 'specially towards the end. Unrelenting...and one of my fave novels.
May. 7th, 2007 05:52 pm (UTC)
I'd forgotten about Doomsday Book. She also nails it in "The Last of the Winnebagos." From what I've heard, her new novel also deals with sadness during the London blitz.
May. 7th, 2007 08:18 pm (UTC)
Grief in Literature
William Shakespeare often wrote of the sorrow connected to the loss of love/loved ones. If you open up literature to include poetry, there are tons of options. Some of my particular favorites:
W.H. Auden "Stop All the Clocks"
Dylan Thomas "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night"
Emily Dickinson has several
D.H. Lawrence "All Souls Day"
Christina Rosetti "Remember"
Also a Novel: "One True Thing" by Anna Quindlen
May. 7th, 2007 11:54 pm (UTC)
Trois couleurs: Bleu (1993) by Krzysztof Kieslowski. An amazing film about surviving grief.
May. 8th, 2007 12:22 am (UTC)
My favorite film dealing with grief is The Sweet Hereafter, Atom Egoyan's wrenching adaptation of Russell Banks's novel.

Re: Janet's reference to "Stop All the Clocks," I've read (I can't find it now) that Auden viewed it as parody; he found unbelievable the overstatements of romantic love. Even knowing that, I find the poem moving.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )