Every person has a story, their own personal life journey. Some lives are simpler than others and surely some people endure more suffering than life should allow. Funeral and spiritual care professionals witness suffering daily. Having worked for some time both these areas, I conclude that the only good that comes from deep suffering is the wisdom it yields.
I recently took part in a webinar featuring Liz Tichenor and I immediately had to know more of her story. That day I purchased and began reading her recently published book The Night Lake: A Young Priest Maps The Topography of Grief. Liz’s book teaches a great deal about grief. She didn’t set out to teach anything, she started by writing a journal which morphed into an autobiographical account of the two tragic losses she experienced within months. Soon after she was ordained an Episcopal priest in her late twenties, her mother died by suicide and sixteen months later her forty-day-old baby Fritz died unexpectedly.
Liz’s retelling is raw. It reinforces that grief is unique to a specific loss and that one must find their way through the pain the best they can. There is no pill, magic potion, or straightforward path to walking with grief. She illustrates beautifully that the path is more often a stagger than a saunter. Despite her religious training and deep faith, Liz faces her losses with the same fear, anger, confusion and pain as anyone tossed unexpectedly into grief’s baffling journey.
The Night Lake is written not as a text or primer on loss and grief, but as a story in which the reader is easily caught up. I wept, laughed and cheered this passionate and compassionate lady through some mighty tough moments. In recounting what those around her said and did, Liz is brutally honest about what does and does not help a grieving person. In sharing the thoughts in her head as she struggled to get through her daily routine, Liz normalizes what a grieving person sometimes fears is unhealthy or unacceptable thinking. I found it impossible to read this book and not join my heart to hers.
Liz’s writing is honest, engaging and informative. Here is a sampling:
“I did not know if life could return after something as terrible as Fritz’s death. I simply did not know.”
“There was no making sense of what was before me…”
“I couldn’t sit still. Fritz had been dead for ten days and sitting in one place, arms empty was agonizing, terrifying. The cortisol was still pumped; I was ready for whatever crisis might befall us at any given moment. I was anxious, in overdrive.”
“The shit people sent in cards very nearly drove me over the edge, pouring acid into my broken-open heart. At the same time, the love people sent in cards was saving my life. Neither of these statements is the slightest exaggeration.”
“The sight of a breathless baby would never leave me.” “And so I tried to reach for my dear ones this day. I told them that Fritz’s death still broke me. I told them I still needed their love.”
I strongly recommend this memoir, not because it soothes the bereaved, but because it does not. There are plenty of books on the market to help the grieving person feel better, but this one in its truthful telling, uncovers how to grow through what you go through.