I recently broke a self-imposed book-purchasing ban (due to the large number of yet unread books occupying my limited shelf space) upon coming across the beautifully written anthology “The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning.” The newly released 351 page collection, currently available in hardcover, was compiled and edited by George Bowering and Jean Baird after the sudden death of Baird’s twenty-three year old daughter, Bronwyn. In the midst of profound grief following Bronwyn’s death, Baird turned to books in an attempt to make sense of the senseless. After reading numerous works by grief counsellors and psychologists, she realized that what she was really searching for were stories by people who had experienced the death of a loved one. Together with her husband, Bowering, Baird created that very book.
“The Heart Does Break” consists of twenty original pieces by Canadian writers on their experiences of grief and mourning. Many people will find aspects of their own stories in the pages of this poignant book, as it includes narratives about the deaths of mothers, fathers, grandparents, infants, children, lovers, spouses, and friends. Contributors include Jill Frayne writing about the death of her mother, June Callwood, and William Whitehead writing about the death of his partner, Timothy Findley. One of my favourite essays was Hiromi Goto’s moving yet humorous account of the deaths of her grandmother and father.
As with any compilation of works by multiple authors, the writing style varies considerably from one chapter to the next, with some styles likely to appeal to individual readers more than others. This collection should not be interpreted as advice on how to navigate the world in the face of heartbreak. Nonetheless, there are words of wisdom in its pages: “Closure is a myth. You learn to live with the hole in your heart.” This is but one insight of many in this valuable anthology.
Reviewed by: Andrea Warnick, RN, MA is a grief counsellor at the Max and Beatrice Wolfe Children's Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she provides support and education to families in which a child or teenager is experiencing the death of a family member. She is also the director of Camp Erin Toronto, a weekend bereavement camp for 6-17 year olds. Through her clinical nursing work in pediatric oncology and pediatric and adult palliative care, Andrea developed a passion for working with ill, dying, and bereaved children and adults. As a result she obtained a Masters of Arts degree in Thanatology, the psychology and sociology of dying and death, from Hood College in Maryland. Her international work has taken her to Saudi Arabia, Africa, and in to the survivor camps of post-tsunami Sri Lanka.