When It Comes to Grief and Loss

Here is a sketch I made from the first picture I ever took of Joy. I found the original photograph, torn and faded, taken well over 40 years ago, and drew from it one night, including the tears and rips and tape.

Sometimes the thing you least want to do becomes the very thing that touches other people most. I never wanted to write The Widowers Notebook, a book that chronicles my wife, Joy’s sudden death. I resisted writing it, then resisted publishing it. I told myself it was too personal, too revealing, too painful. I worried until the day it was published. Then I started traveling around the country with the book, meeting people, hearing their stories, their need to tell them; men and women talking of grief and loss and, if not wanting answers at least acknowledgment that although they may never get over their loss they will get better. Messages from strangers flood my website and inbox every day telling me I have written their words, thanking me for having the courage to write them. I tell them it was not courage; it was simply the way I processed my grief. Everywhere I go I see this need to reach out, to connect. It’s got me thinking: is grief the great leveler? Is this what it takes to bring people together? I don’t know. But I’ve been to blue states and red ones, and no one asks me my politics while telling me their story or reacting to mine, only wishing me well as I do them. Perhaps the country is in mourning (for American values? I know everyone has a different idea about what those are!) but I can say this: when it comes to grief and loss, something we will all experience at some point in our lives, we are all members of the same tribe. I could quote from dozens of emails and letters. Here are just a few:

“…I find it funny, you a Jewish man and I, a Catholic woman, feeling and doing so many of the same things…”

“Thank you for writing the words I could not speak when my wife died…”

“…I want you to know that your story made me feel I wasn’t alone or crazy. You didn’t lecture; you came alongside. I am so glad I chose to read The Widower’s Notebook.”

“I just finished your memoir and would like to thank you. I just lost my beloved husband of thirty-nine years one month ago and I am very lost. But reading your book made me realize I am not alone. Thank you.”

There are so many more, some long, others brief, but each one of them touching and real. These people have helped me as much as they say my book has helped them.

I am almost finished traveling with this book, though a few stops remain:

Thursday, 10/18 @6:30pm
American Writers Museum – With Rachel Shteir
Chicago, IL

Wednesday, 11/7 @7:00pm
Stony Brook Southampton Writers Speak
https://calendar.stonybrook.edu/event/stony-brook-southampton-writers-speak-series jonathan-santlofer/
Southhampton, NY

Tuesday, 11/13 @7:30pm
{Words} Bookstore With Carol Fitzgerald.
179 Maplewood Ave, Maplewood, NJ.

Monday, 12/10 @6:30pm
Bayport-Bluepoint Public Library
Bluepoint, NY

I want to thank everyone who has shown up for me. I cannot begin to express my gratitude.