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on December 23, 2010
The Heart Does Break: Canadian Writers on Grief and Mourning was waiting for me some months after I'd bought it, after a devastating loss of an irreplaceable person in my life; and I was finally ready to try reading it. I was immediately gripped by the essays. Every single one of them had something different in them that, collectively, addressed just about all aspects of mourning and grief. More than that, it was astonishing just how much people do love and do grieve, and how the losses we endure can threaten to add further loss to humanity -- that is, the loss of our selves, in the mire and mayhem of grief itself. These essays touched my heart, and will be touching many more hearts, most certainly and in the most empathic manner. The writing is particularly great because no other subject could mean so much to most people who have suffered such unbearable, incomprehensible loss. And it's a tribute to the authors, with their stellar accomplishments in this tome, that this most dreaded and inevitable heartache can produce something exceptional and artistic, eternal. I know that for me, there were many vivid and unforgettable passages that made me pause and think, or feel; just as I needed to, in order to continue living and breathing. If you are suffering a terrible loss, give this book a look-over. Give yourself the chance to find some alleviation of the pain, if only a little. This one book does so much with just a few hours worth of your reading time, it's well worth picking up and buying even if you're not sure you are ever going to open it. The sharing of these authors' pain and bewilderment will no doubt mirror some of your own, and obviously provide some therapeutic resonance. At a terrible, life-stopping time, the voices of others cannot help but call you back to life -- hopefully where you belong. (When it reaches you, you'll know this to be the case in a way that not many self-help type books can 'teach' you). I will continue to recommend this beautiful, absorbing book, in the most honest and heartfelt manner. If the heart does break, it does also mend; with time, with patience, with love, and with hearing the voices of others who have gone through the breaking and who have cared enough to share their stories and testify how they managed to survive it.
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on April 30, 2013
I found Bowering and Baird's THE HEART DOES BREAK in a rather roundabout way. First I discovered Canadian writer George Bowering, mainly his memoirs, first reading his newest, Pinboy, a hilarious yet touching tale of growing up in southern British Columbia in the 40s and 50s. Later I read his Baseball Love, which introduced me to Bowering's present wife, Jean Baird. Then, through Jean's name, I found this book, an obvious labor of love undertaken in the wake of terrible loss. Baird's daughter was killed in an auto accident and she found herself bereft. Looking for solace in books, she found no adequate book about grief by good, literary, Canadian writers. So, with the help of her husband and their combined contacts in the Canadian world of letters, she put together THE HEART DOES BREAK: CANADIAN WRITERS ON GRIEF AND MOURNING.

As luck would have it - good or bad luck is debatable here - I received a copy of the book in the mail just a week after the death of my 96 year-old mother. Of course, the obvious so-called words of comfort from most people, was, "She lived a long life." I knew they meant well, but my mother had just died. I was not comforted. But once the funeral and burial were finally past, I began reading Baird's book. Did I find solace there? Yes.

When someone dear and important to you dies, you are not sure how you are supposed to feel. Some thoughts seem wrong and you feel vaguely guilty and perhaps even worse. Depression seeps in. The essays in THE HEART DOES BREAK helped. I found thoughts in these deeply personal pieces on loss which mirrored my own, or, sometimes, were the complete opposite. For example, Paul Quarrington's essay on the loss of his mother when he was just twelve ("The Bluesman") tells how he turned to music, noting that "I was not in the mood for 'Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, Life Goes On." While I agreed with Quarrington, I also found myself obsessively thinking those lyrics after Mom died, and even wrote them in my daily journal more than once. They looked and felt wrong, but there they were anyway.

And there was Renee Rodin's piece about the brutal murder of a dear family friend ("Googling the Bardo"). She notes, "Grief is totally individual, totally personal ... Closure is a myth. You learn to live with the hole in your heart." I was reassured by this comment, because I know I will always miss my mother, even if she did live for nearly 97 years. In fact, a writer friend of mine, who had in the past two years lost a mother and a wife, responded to the news of Mom's death with this comment: "You never get over it; there is no closure, as some people try to insist, nor should there be. You carry your dead with you, as you must." It may sound harsh, but it helped.

In the first days and weeks following my mother's death, I found myself often quite suddenly and unexpectedly unable to speak and my eyes would fill with tears. Anne Stone, in her essay, "What Will Not Bury," tells of a friend who had the same reaction, his because he knew his wife was dying. "He'd start a sentence and sometimes his blue eyes would fill with tears, though he gave no other sign that he knew he was losing Elsie, just this crying in the midst of ordinary speech." These kinds of stories are not easy to read, indeed they often made me weep all over again. But it was comforting to know it wasn't just me who was often struck mute in mid-sentence, ambushed by sorrow.

Jill Frayne's story of her mother's dying, "Her Great Art" struck an achingly familiar chord with its observation, "... she was restless, wanting to be gone. Her eyes were large and dark. I think she hated to detain us, coming every day, but her body had its pace. She had to wait." Frayne goes on to say, "Death is the bony birth, the inside-out of being born ... Sometimes in her sleep she groaned, not in pain I thought, but from the effort to set down her life." All of these words were so right on the money as I remembered my mother's last days and hours.

Hiromi Goto, in her piece, "Without Words," lists things that helped her in her grief and sorrow. Among these things is "Music that nourishes your spirit." Oddly enough one of the artists she mentions is Dave Brubeck. I just happened to be listening to Brubeck's signature tune, "Take Five," the day I read this essay. Goto says "the absence of lyrics was key" in choosing music. Another favorite of mine was a double album CD by the Paul Weston orchestra. Yes, music soothes; it helps.

So too does good literature. And these essays are "literature." Books help. Music helps. Human kindness and thoughtfulness help too. And perhaps the most helful, if neutral-seeming, comment one might make on someone's loss of a loved one, is the one offered in the introductory essay by Baird's husband, George Bowering: "I am sorry for your loss. May I bring you some tea?"

Thank you, Jean and George, for assembling this useful and comforting collection of beautiful essays. And I would also add, however belatedly, "I am sorry for your loss."

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
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on March 28, 2010
This is a great tool to help you through the pain of losing someone. My husband and I just lost our 20 year old cat whom we had in our lives from an eight month old kitten. A long time for bonding, days, months and years of pure joy. His death has hit us hard and this book of shared memories from an assortment of Canadian authors, persons of note across our Country is a fine and comforting read. I have recommended it to friends and will urge anyone in a state of heart break to get it and read it not all at once but a story once or twice a week. You will identify with the feelings the stories evoke.
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on July 19, 2013
Having recently suffered a bereavement, this book was sent to me, giving stories of other people who had had similar experiences. I then sent a copy to my nephew, who was experiencing great difficulty dealing with his mother's death. I found it very moving and cathartic.
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