I belong to a book club where, at 55, I’m the youngest member. The oldest member is 92 and there is another member who turned 90 this year. I’m reluctant member of the group because I like to read spontaneously and don’t like having reading deadlines. I don’t like having to finish a book I’m not immediately drawn into – there are too many other books barking for my attention. But I go because it’s such an honor to be in the presence of these well-read, spicy, and insightful women.
Our most recent book was Wild by Cheryl Strayed, a book about grief, something everyone in the group is familiar with. Once you’ve reached a certain age, you’ve survived devastating losses of loved ones. It’s part of the price you pay for survival.
A few days before the group was to meet, I got the story book, Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Danish writer Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Charlotte Pardi. Robert Mouthrop translated this English version that was published recently by Enchanted Lion Books.
Ringtved has written over 40 books for children, most of them clever and funny. This one, though, is about death. He wrote it for his own children when his mother was dying, moved by the words she spoke to him: “Cry, heart, but never break.” She wanted him to know that it was okay to mourn her loss, but that her time was over. Life would go on.
Our book club was meeting in the early afternoon. We meet at Bridge Meadows, the community I live in. Later in the day, we had a “celebration of life” planned for a member of the community who had recently died at age 80. She was a member of the book club, too. Grief and loss were much in my thoughts, and on a lark, I decided to take Cry, Heart, But Never Break to the group and perhaps read it after the book discussion, depending on how it all went.
There was a brilliant discussion on grief. We talked about the losses in our lives that most devastated us – sisters, brothers, fiancés, parents, spouses. We talked about the way that we hold grief, how we never really get over it, it becomes a part of us. We keep the story of the person we grieve alive. Their story is ours.
One of the members grabbed a tissue and quietly wiped her eyes. “My daughter is dying now of cancer,” she said. Her daughter’s breast cancer has metastasized into her bones and other organs. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” the woman said, though she nursed her husband through 7 years of Alzheimer’s. Her other daughter is that state of devastation, unable to accept that her sister, in her 50s, is dying. She’s always on the internet looking for cures, refusing to “give up.” It’s exhausting for the mother, loving both of her daughters through this.
But she is taking time for self-care, getting out in nature, coming to our book club, doing tai chi, joining a writing group – and appreciating the time she has with her dying daughter. The daugher’s lived longer than expected and each day is blessing.
After our condolences and offers of support, a meditative silence settled around us. So I pulled out Cry, Heart, But Never Break, and asked if they would like to hear it. They were happy to.
So I read it to them, slowly, holding up the pictures, and pausing for them to absorb both the bright colors and the somber, tender portrait of Death.
Death tells a story to 4 children who are trying to trick him into leaving their grandmother with them. He wants them understand how necessary his work is.
“The children weren’t sure they understood Death fully, but somehow they knew he was right.”
There was a long pause after I read it. One of the 90 year old women talked about her fear of death, but her daughter speaks to her of the cycle of life, how death isn’t to be feared so much, it’s part of life. The book reminded her of that.
Another woman said it was a great book for adults, which is my belief about many children’s books. We’re all still the children we once were.
They asked if I was going to read it to children. Of course, but not in a group. This is a book I think should be read to children one-on-one, with lots of time for discussion.
Later, when I was at the celebration of life for our departed friend, I thought about how sometimes I am blessed with a bit of convergence, where all that seems to be discordant and disconnected in life somehow suddenly flows together. A bit of redemption washes over me. I feel the great sorrows of others, of the world, but sorrow becomes an undercurrent to a vast river that quenches and sustains me.
Wise women who connect to life at its most painful, writers who bring us together in our grief and joy, life that blossoms all around us — how blessed I am to find such stories.
You can read another insightful review of Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Rigtved on BrainPickings here.
Another wonderful book for children of all ages to help understand the life cycle and death is Little Bell and the Moon by Giles Paley-Phillips. You can read about it here.
Life is short. May you find comfort and perhaps some little flowers on this day.
Thanks for reading my blog.