For six years now, the arrival February fills me with dread as the anniversary Ashlie’s death approaches. Each season I’ve tried a different method of coping, none of them particularly effective, but still, I keep trying. This year, J. and I are heading to Capitola just south of Santa Cruz on the Monterey Bay.
Reporting back from the other side of monumental loss, I don’t have any great wisdom or grand pronouncements. Grief is ever-present. I have learned to live with it; little by little, making room for other things.
I wish there was more.
Maybe this year I’ll unlock some mystery but for now, I’m just hoping to make it through.
I’m walking alone in an unfamiliar neighborhood, pulling a child’s bicycle along beside me. I find Ash along the way, playing with some little girls. I turn over the bike, like I came specifically to deliver it, but Ash shoves the bike away and it clatters to the ground. Clenched jaw and defiant eyes. Oh yes, I know that look.
Like every mother ever, I grab an arm and pull my child away from the others. I hunch down until my face is level with Ash’s and I growl. “Look kiddo, in my real life, you’re dead. So I come all the way down here to spend time with you and THIS is how you’re gonna act?”
The odd thing is, I can’t remember what happened after that – if Ash responded, if the mad mood broke or if I realized how funny and sad it was to say such a thing to a child. Even a dead child. Even in a dream.
Intensely personal stories often illuminate universal truths. Writer and actor Jim Beaver’s memoir is one of those. In October 2003, his wife Cecily was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. In an effort to keep loved ones abreast of the situation, Jim began sending a nightly e-mail to 125 friends and family members. These messages, eventually reaching an audience of nearly 4,000 and spanning a year, are the basis of “Life’s That Way”.
Jim writes: “I’ve attempted to flood the path with light where I could, and where I could not I’ve wanted at least to hold up a candle so that others coming this way might not stumble too painfully.” And indeed he has. The first 1/3 of the book traces the course of Cecily’s illness, painting her so vividly that her death in early March is a punch in the gut, even to the reader who met her a mere 125 pages earlier.
The remaining 2/3 of “Life’s That Way” deals with the aftermath in a way that is immediate and intimate. Beaver continues the nightly e-mails, processing his experiences, sharing the struggle of raising a young daughter alone and mourning his beloved wife. “I will bear this grief. I will endure it. I will reach a point where it doesn’t kick me down an abyss whenever I turn my back on it.”
As someone who still deals with the abyss of grief on a daily basis, I found this beautiful book wrenching and yet somehow hopeful as Jim Beaver weaves wisdom and humor into his story and their lives. I recommend it highly, not only to those who have faced such grief but to anyone who someday might. As Beaver so pointedly writes: “Some kind of Providence keeps us blind to the intensity of suffering so as to keep us sane, until that day when the suffering is our own or that of someone we love beyond imagining.”
But taking this journey with Jim, Cecily and their daughter Maddie has made me more acutely aware of the necessity for life beyond the grief.
[You can find “Life’s That Way” now on Amazon or GoodReads.]