I’m a reader. I love how I can fall into a work of fiction and let my mind hang out there for a while, as well as how I can be inspired or learn something new from nonfiction. I’ve been in love with books since I learned to read, and was an English major in college. Now, to facilitate my love of books, I run a book blog called Literary Quicksand.
My TBR (to be read) list is a mile long, filled with books I find that I want to read. When I’m picking out which one I’d like to read next, it’s based a lot on how I’m feeling, and on what I know about the book. Last month, I saw one book in particular that I had been ignoring for a long time, even though I knew I was going to love it: Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.
Wild has been staring me in the face for a good couple of years now. I knew for sure I’d be inspired by the story, but couldn’t face the idea of picking it up, because I knew that the story begins with the death of Cheryl’s mother.
My mom died suddenly and unexpectedly on November 13, 2014. She was 54 years old. The movie version of Wild was released on December 5, 2014. Naturally, that’s when everyone was talking about the story, and I heard that it was about how Cheryl goes on this epic trail hike to find herself and deal with her grief after the death of her mom.
So, I avoided it like the plague.
A Grief Ignored Doesn’t Go Away
I did not grieve my mom well. At least, I don’t feel like I did. I gave myself a couple weeks of ridiculous crying, and then just decided that, yeah it sucks, but being really sad isn’t going to bring her back. So, in my attempt to just not be sad about it, I avoided it…I avoided her. I couldn’t look at pictures, and I couldn’t think too much about how I missed her. Instead, I made myself busy with life and just chugged along.
I also continued avoiding Wild.
That doesn’t mean I never I thought about her – I definitely did. The grief would bubble up to the surface every once in a while, and I’d feel that sadness that I told myself not to feel, and I’d push it back down.
In July of 2016, I found out I was pregnant, and I knew that this was what was going to finally help me heal from losing my mom. I would have my own child, and my own family. I would be a mom, and I would feel connected to my mom even more, even though she’s not here.
Grief on Top of Grief
In October, we found out Jonah was sick. In the months that followed, I didn’t have space for grief for my mom – I didn’t have space for anything, really, besides focusing on my Jonah.
In January, Jonah’s heart stopped beating. While we had been mostly expecting that to happen for a while, that didn’t make it any easier to hear. In the hours that followed, as I was being induced, I was thinking, “I’m going to need help with this one. There’s not going to be any pushing this down, like I did with my mom.”
Man, I was so, so right. Not only doing I have the intense grief from losing Jonah, but feeling that grief makes the unfelt grief for my mom come back up, too. My mom and my son are in Heaven together, and picturing them in that way brings me comfort, but also really intense sadness and grief.
Facing Grief, Reading Wild
Ignoring Wild was just another way that I suppressed my grief over losing my mom. I didn’t want to feel the feelings I knew were there, so I just ignored it. After Jonah died, though, as I grieved him, I had to let the grief come for my mom. There was no way I could separate the two in the shitstorm of grief and terribleness in my life, so I just let myself have all the feels.
Beyond letting myself feel, I decided to make myself feel. Four months after Jonah died, I picked up Wild from the library. I had seen a couple quotes from Cheryl Strayed during my endless grief-related internet surfing sessions over the months, and I knew it was time.
The death of Cheryl’s mother is within the first chapters of her book. Yes, it was hard to read. Yes, it made me cry. Yes, I had many, many feels….love, lots of love. And sadness, of course.
The rest of the book was just as relatable and inspiring as I thought it would be. I could put myself in her shoes, out on that trail, trying to figure out who she was without her mom in her life. Each of us goes through some sort of journey of rediscovery after the loss of a close loved one. Our identity included that person, and now it has to shift. Everyone has their own way of filling that hole, of figuring out the self that is now left there alone. For Cheryl, it took experimenting with drugs, fooling around with random men, and taking a months-long trail hike to begin to understand herself without her mom.
I am a daughter without a mother, and a mother without a child. Figuring out my self as those two things is hard. To help, I go to therapy, I write, I read. I practice a lot of self care. I find things that inspire me. Most of all, though, I’ve learned that I just have to face my grief.
So, I read Wild. And I cried. And then I loved it.