I read this book during a time of loss and sadness. When my spirits were so low neither music nor books could enter my heart. Numerous books remained unread, the words and stories therein unable to penetrate the wall.
Then I recalled reading about Carol Balawyder and ‘Mourning Has Broken’; her book on loss and grief. On a whim I bought it.
My attention was seized from the very first few sentences and as I devoured it within two days ‘Mourning Has Broken’ left a deep and profound impact on me.
The writing is exceptional and beautiful. Poetic in places, full of wisdom. Her words spoke directly to me, then at times mirrored my experiences of loss exactly. I have never highlighted so much in a book since my student days. Nor have I I talked so much about a book – I am sure my family by now feel they have read it too!
Within nine months Carol first lost her mother then her sister, Diana, to cancer. Years before her father had passed away. As she struggled to cope with the ensuing grief, she turned to writing. These turned into two essays which are collected here in one book. Carol calls them essays; for me the word is too heavy, ponderous.
The writing flows with ease and is never ‘preachy’ in tone. Whilst the book is about how to deal with the pain of losing family members; it becomes much more – a personal exposition of Carol’s life and familial relationships and ultimately ‘Mourning Has Broken’ is as much a book on living and surviving grief as on mourning and loss.
Through skilfully crafted snippets Carol provides detailed images of her life when young with her father, mother and sisters (elder one, Louise). At times funny, at times sad, the overwhelming feeling regarding her parents is one of sadness and mourning – even before their deaths. Always kind, considerate and giving Carol realises she never had the relationship she wanted with them. Averse to showing any physical or verbal affection she regrets her parent’s lack of hugs and ‘I love you’. Where her father was a secret alcoholic, her mother lived by an array of confusing rules, many of which young Carol inadvertently ran foul.
The second part of the book opens with the ‘unfathomable’. That after five years of fighting lymphoma her sister’s battle is soon over. As the family and the two sisters gather for Diana’s final days in hospital I cried. The helplessness, despair is portrayed with Carol’s usual deep sincere honesty.
As she recounts her sister’s fight with cancer (whilst Carol was at the same time also being treated for a ‘safer’ form of cancer) the reader follows her soul-searching; both to understand the past, its guilt, joys and lows and to comprehend present pain. Searching for spiritual meaning, searching for a way to live on. Her self-awareness is at times unforgiving, always touching.
Throughout Carol’s gentle and compassionate nature shines forth. The book is both heart-felt and heart-warming.
I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is not, as I thought, a only book for those suffering loss. It is for everyone, whenever. I wished I’d read it earlier.
Now I will let some of Carol’s wonderful writing in ‘Mourning Has Broken’ provide a glimpse of this life-changing book.
I know that we were circling, like birds of prey, around his death.
I remember once telling a therapist that my father was my hero. “It’s hard,” he answered, “for any man to stand up to that kind of idolization.”
I love therapy sessions where I am allowed to lie down, just as I love corpse pose in yoga. Why can I not give myself permission to lie down in my own home without a feeling of guilt that I should be doing something else? Something productive?
Morphine. Morpheus. One who shapes dreams. In a dreamlike state but still aware. What are you thinking of in these last hours of your life? What are you feeling? Where are you?
I don’t tell her I think my sister is hanging on like a leaf hangs on to a branch in late November. Sooner or later it will have to let go.
What needs letting go is a future with her.
Death changes everyone.
Before entering a bookstore, I always ask for guidance that I may find the book which I need to be reading at this time in my life.
Still, at her funeral service, I read these lines from Thich Nhat Hahn: Time is too slow for those who wait/too swift for those who fear/too long for those who grieve/too short for those who rejoice/but for those who love, time is eternity.
Do we ever really bury those we loved dearly? Is there really any such thing as closure?
Mourning, I realize, must come in small parcels. To realize the immensity of the loss at once would be too overwhelming and unbearable. It must be done in bits and pieces of dreams disappearing one sliver at a time.
In the spring before Diana died, she and her partner, Jean-Louis, planted a wild rose bush at our parent’s gravesite. Now, as I walk towards the grave I am struck by the single rose in glorious bloom amidst all the dead ones. My immediate thought is that Diana’s spirit is in the pink wild rose for in her own life, she was a pink wild rose.
In this void, the voice of Karen Armstrong, one of the most progressive thinkers on the role of religion in our society, reaches me. God was not something you could prove with rational thought or words. God was something to be experienced, and you could have this God experience through music, poetry, silence, compassion, and kindness.
“Faith and hope,” she once told me, “are gifts of grace. They are the lighthouse which shines on our days of darkness.”
From ‘Mourning Has Broken’ by Carol Balawyder
Note: Use of the quotes are reproduced from the book by kind permission of the author.
RATING: 5 out of 5 stars!
£ 6.02 Paperback – Amazon UK $ 8.50 Amazon US