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Excerpts from the Ether: Beautiful Sorrows

Welcome to Excerpts from the Ether. Every Saturday I’m going to be excerpting a letter from a reader (with their permission, of course) and featuring them here on my blog.

Something that has always stood out to me about grief is how lonely it is. When you’re going through the loss of a loved one, it can be a very isolating experience. No one around you quite understands what you’re feeling. My main intention behind writing and publishing The Rules of Inheritance was to put my experience out into the world so that others would feel a little less alone in their own journeys. Over the last several weeks since the book was published, I’ve received some incredible letters from readers and I’m so humbled to share some of them here.

February 26, 2012

Dear Claire,

I experienced my own parental loss at the same age as you did, losing my 43 year old mother when I was 18 and a half years old. At age forty today, I am a middle school guidance counselor with a strong interest in grief and bereavement.

Back in November I was chosen to be a juror in a double homicide trial and attempted murder on a third victim. Over the course of this trial, I found myself revisiting my own grief  as I sat and listened to the victim in the case speak of her trauma and the impossible feat of trying to put her life back together. On the day of sentencing (after we found the defendant guilty on all counts) I went and spoke to the young victim because I felt this strong connection to her. Looking back now, I realize that ‘connection’ that I saw and felt was my own 20 year journey in grief that she herself was right in the middle of experiencing (she watched both her grandmother and mother being murdered in front of her while she ran for her life).

Following the trial, I had a bit of a breakdown when I returned to work. I looked at the piles of paper on my desk and the multitude of emails that I had to reply to and realized what is really important. My life was speaking to me…I needed to make a change…I needed to feel that what I do is important work. I started exploring death education, bereavement and grief counseling. I have connected with another school counselor about starting up grief support groups in our schools and I have signed up with our local Bereaved Families chapter to start some grief support training. Then, this weekend,  I read your brilliant memoir of your own grief journey. And now, I am sending my first ever email to an author I can’t stop thinking about. In your book, you said many, many things that rang so true to me and my life. But, how you so eloquently described grief in a way that has never been expressed before will stay with me forever.

 –Gina, Toronto, Canada

This letter strikes me in so many ways. The first is how we see ourselves in others’ stories. I’m always amazed by the conundrum of how unique all of us are as people, yet how we all walk such universal paths, and feel universal pain and love. Gina was allowed a glimpse into her own experience of loss as she listened to the victim of the court case recount her own journey. Even though both women likely feel incredibly alone in their grief, there is something beautiful, I think, about the connection they share.

The other thing that strikes me about Gina’s letter is how she reacted to the experience of revisiting her grief. Rather than let it spin her into depression or more feelings of sadness, she returned to her life more determined than ever to change it, and to create something valuable out of her loss. That was also the big turning point in my life — choosing to stop wallowing in my pain, to stop dragging it around with me everywhere, and to create something meaningful from my experience. I think that’s all we can ever do with pain and sorrow, really. Make something beautiful out of it.

I’m so thankful to Gina for reminding me of these heartbreakingly lovely truths.


  1. I’m really glad you’re posting these. About four years after my father died I started volunteering at the library helping teach people to read. It wasn’t grief related, but it did add a lot of meaning to my life, in a way that had been missing. I can relate to Gina’s wanting to change things in this way.

    Comment by Laura on March 11, 2012 at 9:52 am

  2. This was really nice to read.

    Comment by Andrea on March 12, 2012 at 5:38 pm

  3. Thank you, both Claire AND Gina…So moving and inspiring, in so many ways…:)

    Comment by Francesca on March 12, 2012 at 7:47 pm

  4. Thanks, Fran!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on March 17, 2012 at 8:42 am

  5. So glad, Andrea!

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on March 17, 2012 at 8:43 am

  6. Laura, that sounds like such nice volunteer work! I’m glad you could relate.

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on March 17, 2012 at 8:43 am

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