If you were to ask me about the books on my bookshelves at home, you would find that about a quarter of them are unread. Any book-lover no doubt has the same issue. The library was having an ever-so-tempting books sale, half-priced books were calling your name, you “accidentally” emptied your Amazon shopping cart after having that extra glass of wine last night. That book you really want gets added to the pile of other books you really want to read. It’s the plight of every book-lover: too many books, never enough time.
Or maybe there’s another reason that you haven’t read that book on your bookshelf.
I received a book two years ago from a friend. I was very appreciative, but put it on my bookshelf and there it sat for almost two years. The book was H Is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. It was a New York Times Bestseller, on more than 25 Best Book of the Year lists, and got amazing reviews. I frequently found myself looking for a book to read, looked at H is for Hawk sitting patiently on my bookshelf, and kept looking.
H is for Hawk is about a woman who adopts a hawk as she grapples with the grief from her father’s death. My dear friend gave me this book not long after my own father died. Today marks three years that he passed away after a short battle with Pancreatic cancer.
I remember getting a phone call from my dad a couple of days after Halloween. I talk to my mom every day. If something needed to be relayed between my dad and me we usually did it through her. So I knew something was wrong when I heard his voice on the other side of the phone. “They found a tumor”, he’d told me. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach. This type of thing happened to other people. Not to our family. Not to me. Not to my dad.
I drove the 7 hours to my parents house the next day. My dad hadn’t seen the specialist yet and they didn’t know exactly what it was yet, but Dad knew. And he didn’t let it phase him. We had the nicest weekend together, just me and him. No kids, no distractions, just us. We went to the grocery store, we took a walk around the block, I went with him to Sunday school. He told his Sunday school class that they had found a tumor in his pancreas and I cried. Later, he asked me why I was crying. I told him I was just being a silly girl. He was so strong. Over the next two months, he never once complained. He never got upset. He knew his fate and accepted it. It was the bravest thing I’d ever seen.
After he died, a hole was left in my heart. Anyone who has lost someone close to them knows how it feels. You never stop thinking about them and it doesn’t really get easier. You just figure out how to live life without that person. Every time something funny, or fun, or exciting happens, you want to tell them about it and then you remember.
Every time I passed my bookshelf, I would see H is for Hawk and think of my Dad. Think of my own grief. And know I wasn’t ready to read that book. It was the journey of woman’s grief, meaning that she eventually made it to the other side. I wasn’t there yet, so I didn’t want to read about someone who was. I wasn’t ready to read about someone else’s pain because I was still trying to deal with my own.
I’ve been reading Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood and it’s been going very slowly. I’ve come across this problem before when reading a book by Atwood, but I just didn’t have the patience to continue it at the moment. I looked around for a different book to begin. Then I saw it, H is for Hawk. I picked it up. I realized I was ready. I’d had my own journey with grief and I was on the other side.
I don’t talk about my dad with others often. But it does feel better to talk about it. The anniversary of the day he died is not much different from every other day. I’m always thinking about him. I’m always missing him. But there’s something about the symbolism of making it another year without him that makes me want to recognize it. It also feels comforting to hear other people’s stories of loss and how they’ve made it to the other side as well. If you’re on your own journey of grief, I hope you make it to the other side.
Thanks for listening.