In advance of Sunday’s public celebration of the life of Susan O’Malley, I offer those who are reeling from loss a book recommendation, which Susan presciently shared with me.
Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start here.
Susan was reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar when we roomed together on an art trip to Poland. She spoke glowingly about it, and highly recommended it to me. This was in early September 2012. Later that month, one of the worst things that have happened in my life, one which I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, happened.
In grief, my heart felt beaten and bloodied, like it was cleaving itself from my chest. My universe had been permanently re-arranged, and I walked around in a state of shock for months. I wasn’t sure of anything: why I do anything, what the point was. I wondered how to avoid subjecting loved ones to what I’d been through when my own time came. The hurt of life—and death—seemed inescapable.
Strayed is no stranger to the loss of a parent, and those indescribable, intensely personal, most idiosyncratic emotional experiences categorized as grief. She wrote candidly and forcefully about it in Tiny Beautiful Things and Wild. Strayed somehow found the words and the strength to acknowledge the brutality of such loss. Her honesty also lets in cracks of light: unfathomably, imperfectly, we go on. We might be total fucking messes, but we also have to try, even if we fail, to forgive and love ourselves.
On my way home from three of the worst weeks of my life, I sent Susan a message from the airport. I had to thank her for her recommendation. My mourning felt isolating, but Strayed’s words offered moments of familiarity and acceptance. Maybe it can do the same for you, and thereby join the multitude of ways in which Susan’s wisdom lives on.