Kay’s Library: Grieving and Reading

My life has changed immeasurably since the last post I wrote. About two weeks ago, my great-grandmother died unexpectedly. While my family’s grief has been profound, having none of us ever dealt with such a major loss before, there has also been lots of love and beauty in the process of letting go. In a way, we have said goodbye to the physical presence of my grandmother in our household, and welcomed back a fuller perception of her memory. We more fully understand and appreciate the depth of her strength and love, and that is what we live with now. 

Reading has been a lifeline for me, just as it was through the last emotional upheaval in my life, another unexpected goodbye, which spurred me to found this blog. That event has lost most of its sting for me, because I set out to consciously heal through spending time with the people who care for me, and do the things I love. At the time, of course, I couldn’t see much of a purpose for all the disappointment, humiliation, abandonment, and crushed hopes that I felt and experienced, but now I am thankful that I had a blueprint for how to deal with this much closer and irrevocable grief. 

At the hospital where we sat by my great-grandmother’s bedside while she slowly, peacefully declined, I divided my gaze between her and the pink leather bound Bible I had brought with me from home. The Catholic hospital where she died is one where she had been admitted before, survived a life-saving surgery, and always felt well cared for by the staff. Her religion was the great consolation of her life, a reminder of her beloved father, a Baptist deacon who passed away when she was a young girl. Its corridors, chapel, and garden are meant to resemble a monastery of Renaissance Europe, and its purposeful serenity had always reassured me on past visits, too. This time was different. We had been informed that she would not recover from her massive stroke, and we were by her side to say goodbye. The news was broken to us gently, and the staff, especially the hospital chaplains, were a sincere comfort. As was my Bible, weighty in my hands when it was closed, grounding me to the moment and the needs of my family to comfort and be present with them. When I opened it to Genesis, I found respite and inspiration in the story of Abraham.

The Man Who Trusted God

I felt I understood the Biblical figure better than before. Growing up, Abraham’s hamartia-the hero’s flaw-seemed to me to be his love for Sarah. Striving to please her led him to the questionable actions of taking Hagar as a concubine, and then abandoning her and her son Ishmael in the desert when they quarreled with Sarah. Yet, this man is the de facto patriarch of three of the world’s major religions. Now I’m older. I know that human relationships are complicated, that all our actions ping between light and dark, that we are all flawed and so are the way we treat other people and the decisions we make. I looked closer. What is remarkable about Abraham is not what sort of husband or father he was-it was how trustingly he followed God.

Abraham spoke with God about matters large and small, with the familiarity of a friend. He left his father’s house and his ancestral land on God’s advice, trusting without question God’s promises of a new land for him and his descendants. At this time, he didn’t even have children, so his trust was twofold.  He did make decisions based on his love for Sarah, but he always changed course after counseling with God, no different from us all who follow our flawed hearts and then must stand still before God and ask him to guide us once again. Abraham’s most remarkable act of faith, yes, was that he was willing to sacrifice the son that God miraculously blessed him and Sarah with, Isaac. However, by this time Abraham had been following God as best he could for all of his long life, which was by the Bible’s reckoning over a hundred years. Abraham let God change his name, and guide his business transactions, his diplomatic relationships with other tribes, and the way he led his own family and clan. 

Trust is Abraham’s great strength, and the lesson of his life’s story. Trust is what allows God in, the acknowledgement we do not always know what’s best and what the future holds, but God does. 

I didn’t immediately feel that trust in the midst of grieving. The fabric of my family’s lives changed unexpectedly, all at once, and acceptance took a lot of tears and vulnerable discussion amongst us to begin to achieve. And we are still at that beginning of acceptance, allowing change to reshape our days with acceptance and trust, though pain is still in the background like a soft song played in the background. 

My Current Reads

Books have been an immense source of healing. One of the two devotionals I am turning to for daily Scriptural comfort and instruction is Jesus is Calling by Sarah Young. It was a Christmas gift from the grandmother of a friend. She told me that it was a gift to her, in the hospital where her husband had his final illness. I find it uncanny that it came into my life just before my great-grandmother’s death. I especially appreciate the Bible verses recommended at the end of each passage.

Another devotional I am reading is Find Rest by Shaunti Feldhahn. The book is a soft, blush pink leather,  as is my Bible, which my family noticed and complimented me on. 

“The way you dress, the Bible, the books…I think this is what she wanted for you, all along,” my brother said, speaking of our late great-grandmother. I will always treasure these words, and the sentiment that I grew up into just the person she always saw that I could be.

Besides faith-based resources, I am also reading The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, and The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki Shikibu.

The Priory of the Orange Tree was released in 2019, but it is very popular right now in the modern social media discourse on books that one finds on TikTok and YouTube. My younger sister has been introducing me to this world, which is as rife with trends, personalities, conflicts and controversies as any “scene.” It often brings to mind my own days as an independent writer, beta reader, and editor online, as many of these online readers are writers as well. I spent my college years immersed in the online publishing world, and began freelance writing after graduation. I have been taking a break and regrouping from professional writing since this past summer, and I have found that reading more books is the key to reigniting my love of the written word.

So far, I find The Priory of the Orange Tree just the sort of book that is perfect for someone searching for a book to love. It is long, and the fantastical worlds it depicts are well developed. Its politics and magical physics are so well thought out by the author, that I don’t find myself getting tripped up by any noticeable contradictions or plot holes. There is plenty of action, intrigue, and the stakes are high. 

My other fictional read, Genji, unfolds at an episodic, yet languid pace, because that is how it was both written and read aloud many centuries ago in Japan’s Heian Period. The book was written by an imperial noblewoman, most likely to entertain the empress and her ladies in waiting. Although Japan during this period was heavily influenced by classical Chinese culture, Lady Murasaki chose her own time and place to weave a tale of marked and enthralling contrasts. Genji, her hero, is the illegitimate son of an emperor, and his world is the same inhabited by the first readers and listeners of his story: the imperial palace, capital city and surrounding countryside, populated by royals, nobles, bureaucrats and servants. Her scenarios are scandalous, comic, tragic, and relatably banal, her characters capable of poignant depth of feeling and galling shallowness and selfishness, but also mixed emotions and conflicts. Lady Murasaki’s novel continues to enthrall both readers and scholars because of just how lifelike, but also romantic and idealistic it manages to be, constantly vacillating between the two modes like two dancers in a seamlessly practiced and superlatively performed pas de deux. 

Grief is a huge theme of the book’s opening chapters, as the emperor loses his beloved Lady of the Paulownia Court, Genji’s mother. The child is too young to understand the loss, but the father feels it keenly, because she was so dear to him and her passing was so unexpected. Pages later, we find that Genji has grown, and is a man rising in the world and looking for love. My family is just beginning to experience how time and life continue after a loved one is gone. Each passing day is another page turned. 

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