Interview with Author Lynne Griffin

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Life Without Summer by Lynne Griffin (St. Martin’s Press; 0-312-38388-6; $23.95), is a stunning debut novel about family, forgiveness, and finding hope when surrounded by grief. This is the kind of smart, well-written women’s fiction that tugs at the heartstrings, much as works by Jodi Picoult, Lolly Winston, and Jacqueline Mitchard do.

Life Without Summer tells the story of Tessa, a mother who has just lost her four-year-old daughter in a hit-and-run accident and the grief counselor, Celia, who tries to help her to put her life back together. When their lives begin to intersect in powerful and unexpected ways, they discover that the answers one needs might be the other’s only chance for peace. Each woman’s intensely personal journey reverberates with universal themes about the connections between love, marriage, truth, and forgiveness that no reader will forget.

Q: Why did you choose to explore the impact of losing a child on mothers in a fictional account, rather than in a self-help book?

A: I believe grief work can be done in healthy ways. Early in my career, I knew I’d eventually write a book about different types of loss, though I thought it would be nonfiction. Then this story came to me, one where two women had stories that echoed the others’. Many women turn to self-help books, and for them, there are a lot of wonderful resources available. Yet some women look for solace in relating to fictional characters, ones who give voice to how they feel; who allow them to escape from their own pain and at the same time still feel connected. I’ve always sought out reading fiction for that purpose, and I guess I wanted to explore this type of loss without being prescriptive. With something as deeply personal as losing a child, I wanted to write my way to the heart of the experience. I believe Life Without Summer captures the authentic experience of grief, both the universal and personal aspects of it.

Q: Your characters take very different paths in managing their unique losses. Is there any right way to handle the aftermath of the death of a child?

A: There are many right ways to grieve a loss. Some parents take comfort in talking out their feelings, while others prefer being solitudinal. Many lean on pre-established communities, faith-based and civic, while some choose to stick with close knit groups of family and friends for support. There are many healthy things parents can do to celebrate their child’s life, like honor their child with a memorial or some type of commemorative activity. So yes, there are right ways to handle loss, and there are some wrong ways too. Any time someone turns to substances like alcohol or drugs to cope, as one character does in Life Without Summer, it’s a recipe for disaster. Those things may numb the pain in the short run, but create so many more issues in the long run. Personal relationships suffer and depression is more likely to occur with the frequent and excessive use of substances.

Q: Why do some parents seek help from professionals while others do not? Does our society give mothers and fathers mixed messages about how to handle the death of a child?

A: It’s been my experience that parents who seek out counseling after a loss respect that it may well be bigger than their ability to cope with it, as Tessa does in the novel. They don’t judge themselves harshly in the face of something so tragic. And those who don’t seek it are often so immobilized by their grief that they are unable to take that first step toward finding the right support, as Celia does in the novel. It’s also been my experience that fathers get strong messages to get on with things pretty early in bereavement. For example, they’re encouraged to go back to work fairly soon after the loss. Our society still gives men messages to tough things out. In Life Without Summer, I examine men’s and women’s grief. It was important to me to get the very real differences and biases out there. Without being heavy handed, I wanted my readers to consider the fairness of the double standard.

Q: What impact does losing a child have on the stability of a marriage? How do most woman and men handle their different approaches to coping? What should they do?

A: Since men and women do grieve differently, with men tending toward private reflections or burying their pain and women tending toward moving through grief in relationship with others, it adds another dimension to grief work. Moving beyond stereotypes, I believe each person will handle the loss of a child differently. Unfortunately the statistics show that many marriages won’t survive child loss; the divorce rate is high after parents lose a child. I think the differences in the way men and women cope is one factor. I think the state of the marriage before the loss has a lot to do with it, too. The marriages I highlight in Life Without Summer are fairly typical of many couples’ experience following the death of a child. Some try to talk and find they argue, some feel misunderstood and then withdraw; these are commonplace scenarios when couples are under extreme stress.

Q: Your main characters share their experiences by writing in journals. Why did you choose this method of story telling? What’s the therapeutic benefit of journaling after experiencing a loss?

A: Writing in journals has its roots in cognitive-behavioral counseling. When a counselor wants to encourage internal reflection, he or she often recommends writing down thoughts, feelings, and actions. It gives the person journaling an outlet for intense emotion, and it gives them a chance to reflect later, on growth over time. I love to journal, and I’ve used it a great deal in my work with families, so I wasn’t surprised that this was the way the story came to me. I choose it because it allowed me to give readers a very personal and up close account of the grief experience, from not one, but two different woman’s point of view.

Q: Does having another child help or hinder the grieving process for a mother who’s lost a child?

A: It depends on where a mother is in the grief process. Is she moving through her deep emotions with support, choosing to face the feelings that are surfacing during pregnancy and those that will after delivery? If she’s depressed on the outset, this can affect how she cares for herself during pregnancy; it can interfere with infant bonding. An anxious mother can have difficulty caring for a newborn, if she fears she’ll lose another child. And yet welcoming a new child into a family can have a tremendous healing effect. It can be the very thing that helps a parent move through the grief process. While having another child can bring great happiness into the lives of parents, women and men should not see this as a substitute for working out the feelings associated with the child they lost due to illness or tragedy.

** Posted with permission from St.Martins **
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2 People said

  1. OMG, what a heart-wrenching story! Have readers who are mothers told you it was very difficult for them to read your book? I can't even imagine!

  2. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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