Crossing the River: Seven Stories That Saved My Life
By Carol Smith
Abrams Press; hardcover, 272 pages; $26.00; available this Tuesday, May 4th
Carol Smith is an award-winning journalist and editor for NPR affiliate KUOW in Seattle, and was formerly with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Los Angeles Times. She was recently names Editor of the Year by Public Media Journslists Association and has been a PEN America Literary Awards finalist for her journalism and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize seven times and twice for the Pushcart Prize.
Smith's new book Crossing the River, part memoir and part resource guide for mourning, is a powerful and inspirational exploration of grief and resilience following the death of the her son.
Smith recounts how she faced down her crippling loss through reporting a series of profiles of people coping with their own intense challenges, whether a freak accident, a debilitating injury, or a terrifying diagnosis.
This profoundly moving book, with essays that will warm your heart, is a beautiful and valuable resource for anyone coping with loss.
Smith writes of the mission of this heartfelt work: "This is a book about trauma and grief. But it'a also a book about love, about living, about persistence and joy. It's about reinventing, finding purpose, and discovering strength you didn't know you had until you were called upon to use it.
Every one of us fears there is something we could not survive. For me, it was the death of my only child when he was seven years old. He died suddenly, during what was shaping up to be the best year of his life. A kidney transplant had given him a second start on a healthy childhood. That dream ended when, without warning, he collapsed in cardiac arrest at his grandparents' house. I was not with him when he died, a fact that haunts me to this day. After his death, I woke in shock to an utterly changed world. I couldn't read the map to find my way out of the vast, harsh landscape of my grief.
In a similar way, the coronavirus pandemic has forced so many of us into unfamiliar territory. And its signature wound is that people die alone without their loved ones near, the thought of which still brings me to my knees.
The feelings in those early days of the pandemic, the way time blure, the obsessive search for any bit of news that might change the outcome, the sinking realization that control had slipped from our grasp, the sense of dislocation, the daily struggle to breathe - all these perfectly mirror feelings of grief.
So, too, does the panicky sense that we don't know yet what we've lost, only that it's something we didn't know how much we'd miss. Or the sense of foreboding that even if something awful hasn't happened yet, it will soon - what I heard one person call 'the grief before the grief.' And there is this, too: the grief after the grief, the way one trauma calls back another in the echo chamber of the heart.
People can't give you hope, can't dispense it on an as-needed basis like a prescription. But I believe hope can be learned, and it's learned through the experience of others. It happens through our shared stories. After my son died, I needed hope. I found it through reporting the stories of others who had faced down hard circumstances of their own. These were stories of survival and transformation, of people confronting devastating situations that changed them in unexpected ways.
I learned how to live after loss from their stories. Many more of is are facing unimaginable losses in the long tail of the COVID-19 crisis. I hope these stories will provide as much courage and insight for others as they did for me."