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Preface to the Third Edition ~ 2017
Original Preface ~ 2010
1.Beginning of the End
2.The Myths of History
5.Pets I Have Known
6.Furniture and Defiance
7.Friends and Freak-outs
9.Life, Death, and Taxes (or, ‘It’s All About the Money’)
10.Paperwork and Ribbons
12.The Lonely Codependent
14.The Happy Ending
Afterward ~ 2017
The Days that Followed
Self-Actualization through Fanfiction
Where to Now?
APPENDIX of RANDOMNESS
Independence Day, 1996
To my parents:
Lt. Col. Garland Alvin York (USAF ret.), 1923-1996
Sue Gale Cooke York, 1943-1994
If you find that this helps you or a loved one, I request that you give to Lee’s Place, so they may continue their incredible work in helping children and families deal with grief and trauma:
Lee’s Place – A Grief and Loss Counseling Center
Contact me via kimboosan.net.
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NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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This book was initially written partly as a therapeutic tool, and partly as a way to reach out to others with similar experiences. It worked well on both counts, and while I sometimes cringe while re-reading parts of it, I’m still proud to have written it.
When I wrote it, I was finishing up nearly two years of weekly therapy that I was fortunate enough to find and afford. I had suffered a significant and extended emotional breakdown at early in 2008, and I did not actually start therapy until that fall (this is discussed in detail in the chapter “Recuperation”).
I remember waking up one morning and thinking to myself, “I have no reason to live.” It was not a suicidal statement but rather the realization that my life was without purpose, meaning, or joy. I was getting up every day for the sole purpose of going to work for the sake of paying the bills, and coming home from work for the sole purpose of “following through” on a marriage that I did not want to admit was on a downward spiral (and had been for a few years).
I talk a lot about the negative effects that my mother’s mental illnesses had on my life, but one thing I can credit her for is teaching me to recognize that moment when I have gone too far in a dangerous direction, psychologically speaking. Knowing I was at crisis, I reached out for help, and I was lucky in turn to receive it.
In spring of 2010 I was filing for divorce and applying to graduate school. I was still on very rocky financial waters (which to this day I have not quite calmed completely) but I felt freer and more complete than I had since…well, since long before my parents died.
And I wrote this book.
Now, seven years later, I look back on that time as epochal. I consider it the breakthrough I should have had in my twenties, had my life been different. I’m still nowhere near where I thought I would be, in terms of life experiences and conquests, but I have hit some important mile markers: I got my master’s degree; I got a dog (Keely!); I have a professional job in a field that is personally rewarding; I am a published author; I am an artist.
I’m in my late 40s now, so it has been over twenty years since the deaths of my parents. The bad news is, I still grieve for them with an ache that sometimes lances through my heart. The good news is that my grief is not as acute, nor as heavy a chain holding me down. (But, more bad news: that took nearly twenty years. I’ll be talking about that in the afterward.)
I decided to do an updated, third edition because of the people who have read this book, many have told me how important it was to them. It has made me somewhat territorial of those people, who are my fellow adult orphans, and given me a sense of responsibility to them as well. I want them to trust in the fact that I will not lie to them or gloss over the things I went through in order to spackle a patina of shiny, happy memories on the past; nor will I wallow in the deep, gray gloom of grief. Well. Not always?
More so, though, I wanted a chance to touch on something that never occurred to me when I was actually writing this book, and that’s the fact that I do not mention God, faith, or religion. At all. I do not talk about the absence of those things, either. This book was never intended as a statement for or against religious-based faith. While I, myself, am an atheist, this is not a polemic on that topic. Yet, it is also one of the few books on grief that is both personally reflective and non-religious. There are many secular books on grief, but they are usually self-help guides or workbooks. There are many personal reflections on loss and grief, but there few that are plainly secular.
It’s an unfortunate but necessary truth that a great deal of atheist-oriented books and texts are geared toward the deconverted. That is, they delve deeply into challenging religious concepts, and/or providing tools that people can use to combat the indoctrination they feel they were subjected to within their religious organizations. This book does neither. If you are looking for those resources, this is not the book for you.
This book, instead, is simply a reflection on grief that is absent god, gods, spiritual “faith,” and religion. I did not set out to make it that way, and in fact it was my editor Joan, who is a devout Catholic, who pointed it out to me. In retrospect I am glad I did not think about that while I was writing it, because it is a purer reflection of my atheism than if I had spent a lot of time talking about being an atheist. As well, there were periods in my life where I went on a “Search for God™” (always returning to the atheism from whence I started) and I do not want to appear as if I have never questioned my own lack of spiritual faith during placid times of curiosity.
It is a profound and illuminating statement about me that the illnesses and deaths of my parents were never the cause for me to second-guess my atheism, and this book as it was written reflects that. Given how rare that perspective is in books about grieving and mourning, it is something I treasure, and hope speaks to others.
One final note: In the original preface I talk about using the term “Young Adult” liberally to apply to myself in my mid-20s. The term I was looking for did not exist at the time: “New Adult.” Nonetheless I have not updated it where used in this book, since the intention is pretty similar.
This book was fifteen years in the making, although in the end it took several months of intense writing and editing and reliving the past to make it happen. Everything in this book is true to my life, although my opinions and reactions to events are probably (hopefully?) not universal.
This book is about dealing with the death of a parent when you are somewhere in your 20s. However, since I use the term “young adults” a lot, I need to clarify what I mean by that as most people usually think that phrase implies teenagers (as in, “YA literature”, etc.). I specifically mean an age group ranging from late teens to about 30 years old. I know some people in that age group might bristle at being called a young adult, but in modern society someone who is under 30 is still, in many ways, considered young and “just starting out.”
I also tend to use the terms “our culture” and “our society” quite a bit but that is limited to American, Westernized society. That is the only culture I can speak for comfortably and on the whole I am assuming I am addressing fellow members of that society through this book. It is more a matter of familiarity than any purposeful exclusion of any other world views, so I welcome hearing from people in other cultures/parts of the world in regards to this subject.
I need to give special thanks to Debbie Wiles, LCSW, of Lee’s Place Grief and Loss Counseling Center in Tallahassee, FL. She helped me pick myself up from where I had plastered myself to the ground, dusted me off, and gave me a strong push on the road to salvaging what is left of my life. She was an intelligent, witty, insightful, and straightforward therapist, and just the person I desperately needed when we met. Without her, this book would never have been written, either. Hopefully she will accept the "blame" gracefully!
I have started this book many times over. I never know where to begin, even though the most basic advice given to any writer is “begin at the beginning.” When you are talking about the death of your parents, though, where is the beginning? When you were born? When you first remember them in your childhood? When you realized they were mortal, or dying, or already dead? Where is the beginning of the end to your whole life?
Yet, I always come back to trying to start this book, because back in 1996 I really needed it and it did not exist. I was twenty-six and had lost everything, which is not quite hyperbole: at the end of the most trying three years of my life I had lost my mother, my father, one of my cats, my home and nearly everything in it, and both of my family’s dogs. It was more than a little traumatic, the description of which words utterly fail to convey.
Using my usual method of dealing with anything I do not understand, I read about it. I read a lot of books on grief, and I cannot say that was wasted effort. Books such as C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed and Stephanie Ericsson’s A Companion through the Darkness were important to me, and remain so after all these years. But I was twenty-six and I had not lost my spouse or my child or a friend, but my parents.
There is no way to claim that one type of death is more catastrophic than another (although personally I will always suspect losing a child to be the worst), but they each have different dynamics. As most grief survivors know, there is nothing more affirming than meeting someone who has been through what you went through and recognizing the shared experiences of it.