Janice Lynn Mather on grief, minor miracles and her YA novel, Where Was Goodbye?

"The assignment is not always about joy. We are no more obligated to write pure happiness than we are permitted to live it."

This post was written by Janice Lynn Mather, author of Where Was Goodbye?

Love, Loss and Minor Miracles
by Janice Lynn Mather

Trigger warning: this post references suicide and unexpected death.

Once, in an interview, I was once asked—or perhaps told—“your stories aren’t very joyful, are they?”

Well, life isn’t all sugar cookies and butter cakes.

Karmen knows that, as she looks for answers in the wake of her brother’s death by suicide.

I know that too. The idea for Where Was Goodbye?, Karmen’s story of searching for answers and understanding, came to me in late 2019. I was full of hope, promise, and shiny, happy writing goals. I was newly (barely) pregnant. I was ready for 2020 to be awesome. I planned.

2020’s spring and summer was—well, you were there. Through it, I planned and wrote the first few chapters of Karmen’s story.

September 2020, my newborn son died two days after his birth.

It was never my intention to write about grief and unexpected loss while actually living out grief and unexpected loss. I don’t recommend it as a technique, but we do what we do with what life hands us. So, in late 2020, I continued to write Karmen’s story while I lived out mine. I explored our questions. I walked with our confusion. I sat with our rage. I cried out our tears, even as more gathered. I held our anxiety in my chest. Together, we looked for answers. Together, we looked for our why.

Back to joyful stories. When I was asked that question, or given that assessment, I muttered something about joy being there, feeling forced to defend my stories and their honour. Later, when I had mulled (Stewed? Steamed?), I realized my core issue with this bizarre feedback nugget. The assignment is not always about joy. We are no more obligated to write pure happiness than we are permitted to live it.

That’s not all, though. Because even stories of pain contain glimmers, tiny moments. Like life in the thick of fresh, raw loss, there are strange moments of normalcy. Sometimes even…yes. A little joy.

Two or three weeks after my son died, our family went to the beach, just to be someplace that wasn’t home. When we returned to the house, there was a tiny parcel by our door: a paper plate bearing soft chocolate chip cookies, covered with a napkin and garnished with two sprigs of lavender. A friend had dropped this small pleasure off. The cookies reminded me of good, simple things. Kindness. Friendship. It hinted at a trustworthy, reliable life. A good recipe will do that: restore your faith in expectations. Reassure you that it is sometimes possible to follow a set of steps and receive the expected, the desired, outcome. Comfort you that a hot oven, plus butter, sugar, flour, and chocolate chips will yield something that tastes like safety. Like rightness. Like home.

There’s a moment in Where Was Goodbye where chocolate chip cookies show up. Do these cookies help Karmen? Does my sharing these cookies with you help you? You judge, but they are, after all, cookies. They are not fate-changers. They do not give answers. They do not grant life.

But they are soft. They can be eaten warm. They brought, even for moments, a sense of comfort, of rightness, to my shattered life. That, for me, was a miracle. Not the miracle I wanted. But a miracle, nonetheless.

I halve the sugar, sub whole wheat flour, and use coconut oil, but you do what you like. Make them yours. Let them be your minor miracle, too.

Perfect Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies – Nora Cooks

Get your copy of Where Was Goodbye? by Janice Lynn Mather here.

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