When Grief is Complicated

An Open Thank You Letter to Sherman Alexie

Grief Awareness Day is Aug. 30, 2017

Dear Mr. Alexie,

Thank you for your words, especially your beautiful letter explaining why you had to halt to your book tour for, YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME.

Author photo by Lee Towndrow

The simple paragraph which resonates the most for me is:

Last week, I fell ill with a terrible headcold and had to cancel events in Tulsa and Missoula. But I also fell ill with depression. I medicated my headcold. I quickly healed from that simple malady. But I couldn’t medicate my sadness — my complicated grief.

Most grief is complicated, in my experience, but the process for anyone with depression is doubly-complicated. In your case, when you add the fraught relationship with your mother, grief can become a quagmire. How long will it remain a quagmire? No one knows and no one can tell you. Things will improve, and I know you know that. Until that time comes, thank you for having both the self-awareness to come to the realization that this tour was aggravating your depression and the generosity to share. Others, those less self-aware, may gain healing insights from your candor.

Tom Ehrich, writer and Episcopal priest, asked an audience of writers at a conference I attended what we want our writing to achieve. My answer: “I want to move people with my writing.” Familiar pangs of inadequacy poked me, seeing those words. Was that answer enough? Surely others would have more elegant and eloquent reasons for writing? But that has been my inner truth for years. Writers who make my heart sing, laugh and weep mean the most to me. You stand alongside Luis Alberto Urrea, Roxane Gay, Marilynne Robinson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, James Baldwin, Sue Monk Kidd and others in the pantheon of writers who touch my heart.

I recently finished YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME and have been working on an essay inspired by a few verses in a poem from chapter 24, “Brother Man.” (By the way, author to author, the chapter titles in this book are amazing. I’m going to make a list of them and do writing prompts as my writing exercises on as many of them as I can. So, thank you for that too.)

Your words set me reflecting and writing, and I thank you for that. It’s a truth I need to wrestle with, and like you, I wrestle best in words. Sometimes, wrestling with the words is what one can manage in a day, not the interviews, the book store stops, the speaking engagements.

Give yourself the time and space you need, as long as you need to. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for shining a light on the importance of self-care. Of acknowledging your complicated grief. Of saying “Sorry, no more,” when the brain and body can no longer do what they are being asked to do.

May you heal and feel whole again.

May you write and know peace again.

May you know, without a doubt, that your words touch your readers. That so many of your readers are profoundly grateful for your courage as well as your talent.

And, for you and anyone who might prefer a condensed video thank you:

Many thanks to Jenna Jorgenson for helping me with the video!!

With great respect and gratitude,

Pam Parker

(A Milwaukee area author who happens to be a patient of a Coeur d’Alene relative of yours. I’m sure he would send his love too.)