I’ve been out of the blog world for about a month. Working, writing things I was paid to write, just thinking about life, starting new creative projects. Not a bad place to be. But this morning I saw that a beautiful soul who I wish I’d known better has left us. She was an artist and writer and a teacher at Vermont College. Bonnie Christensen will be missed by many, I know.
I’ve been thinking about death a lot recently. I just started a new creative non-fiction project about my mother’s death many years ago. But I’ve never written about death on here. Not because I have no experience with death. I have had too many people to count in my life die. But I’ve never been good with death. I’ve never been good with funerals or saying goodbye or laying to rest. I never know what to say when someone else’s loved one passes away. I have never known how to contextualize my own losses. But death is something that everyone has to deal with at some point.
My freshman year of college, my new roommate and I were comparing notes. As a child, I lost family to depression, cancer, and other diseases. I lost friends in car crashes and to drugs. But my roommate had never been touched by death at all. She was a dear, sweet girl, and I loved her, but it was like a gulf that we were talking across.
That summer, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She left school to spend the remainder of her mother’s life with her. Her mother died two years later, the same summer my mother also died of cancer. A few years later, that friend became a nun. She tended animals in a remote cloister in the mountains in Greece. As far as I can tell, she was just as beautiful, dear, and sweet a girl after her mother’s death as she was that first year we confronted womanhood together in college. But perhaps deeper in her joy and connection to life. A few years later, she, too, died of cancer. She was in her mid-twenties.
I don’t know what to do with this death any more than I know what to do with any other death. But I know that we all have to come to some agreement with death, sooner or later. And I know that death is something that many children have to deal with.
So what can we do to help a grieving child? What can we say? What books can we give them? I’ll try to put up a review of Jandy Nelson’s beautiful novel The Sky Is Everywhere in a few days, because I think that is an amazing portrayal of one young woman’s journey through bereavement. But I’d love to hear other thoughts.
And to Bonnie Christensen, as your soul travels on to wherever souls go: Fair well. You brought so much beauty and light into the world. You will be missed.