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Posts Tagged ‘The Royal We’

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I remember understanding what a brutal thing it is to be the bearer of truly bad news – to break off a piece of that misery and hand it to other people, one by one, and then have to comfort them; to put their grief on your shoulders on top of all your own; to be the calm one in the face of their shock and tears. And then learning that relative weight of grief is immaterial. Being smothered a little is no different than being smothered a lot. Either way, you can’t breathe.”

The Royal We, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

This insightful description of grief – and the heartbreaking process of dealing with the practicalities of death – stopped me in my tracks when I came across it this weekend. I was even more surprised to find it where I did: buried in the middle of a frothy, sassy chick lit novel.

Midway through The Royal We (which I loved, by the way), its narrator, Bex, loses someone important to her and has to fly from England back to her hometown in Iowa, to be with her family and to grieve. And while I have never (yet) lost a close family member, this description of grief hit me right in the chest – because I know what it’s like.

Nearly eleven years ago, just before my junior year of college, my friend Cheryl – a member of the group with whom I’d spent the previous semester studying abroad in Oxford – died in a car crash, the week before school started. It wasn’t the first time I had lost someone I loved, but it was the first time I’d had to deal with the sudden, unexpected death of someone close to me. And it was the first time I had to deal with the details of tragedy as an adult.

From the moment we found out about Cheryl’s death – late on a starry, sultry Texas evening, all of us congregating in the front yard of a house near campus – my Oxford group stuck together. We sat up most of that night telling stories about Cheryl and Oxford and our time together, finally drifting off to sleep, draped over futons and sprawled on the living room floor of a house shared by four of my girlfriends. The next morning, those of us who were able – including me – started making phone calls.

I don’t remember how many times I gave the bad news that week. I do remember the gasps of shock on the other end of the phone, the blatant disbelief, my reluctance to say the awful words. I wasn’t as close to Cheryl as some of the others were – but I learned, as Bex does, that the relative weight of your grief doesn’t matter. We were all hurting, and trying to bear the pain in our own ways.

We piled into a string of cars (including mine) to drive down to San Antonio for the funeral. We sat and watched the Summer Olympics in stunned silence, needing to be together, trying to come to grips with the loss of our friend. We wept, or clung dry-eyed to each other, and wondered how this could have happened to us.

Every time I lose someone I love, I flash back to those days in West Texas, and the awful responsibility of sharing the news with my friends, making travel plans, trying to handle questions for which I had no answers. I wasn’t at the center of that sorrow, but I remember how it felt to share it, to bear it together. So this passage from The Royal We made me say simply: Yes. Me too. I know what that’s like.

Not bad for a (mostly) lighthearted piece of chick lit.

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