Digging In - 50 Shades of Grief

BY CATHERINE MAVEN - Grief comes in many shades. It can be a stabbingly red pain that feels too sharp to survive (much like childbirth, actually). It can be a dull grey ache that colors everything the same shade, that makes you forget that the world actually contains other colors. It can be a black that threatens to drown you, a darkness that makes you want to die and take the world with you. And it can be the crazy orange of a sunrise or sunset, a shade so crazy that nobody would believe if you dared to paint it.

“Digging In” (by Loretta Nyhan) is about a widow named Paige Moresco, who married her high school sweetheart and then lost him many years later – but still too soon – in a car accident. The novel takes place two years after her husband’s death, and focuses on her struggle with her rebellious and sullen teenage son, Trey, and on her terror at accepting the changes in her working life. A woman whose life has been defined by staying “safe”, this novel explores Paige’s process of rebirth through exploring her own “crazy”. In a middle-class suburban neighborhood defined by pristine lawns and a strict social order, Paige gets drunk and digs up her back yard to make a garden.

She’s never gardened in her life; but then, she’s never been a widow before, either. Neither one makes sense – until it begins to, with the help of a down-to-earth friend, Mykia, who she meets at the farmer’s market that sets up next to her office building in the summers, and with the help of “Officer Leprechaun”, a funny red-haired police officer who is called in by her uptight neighbors to confront her about the horror she had created in her yard (but who is secretly amused by her new obsession). “Tragedy makes permanent changes. Some good, some bad, I suppose,” Paige tells her son, who worries that his mother has lost her mind.

Nylan takes us on a weird, intensely personal – but often funny – journey through the pain of grief. She uses quotations from a fictional a new age business guru, Petra Polly, as a framework to understand the hipster business strategies that challenge Paige’s “tried and true” (safe) ways of approaching her job (in advertising) – and that offer insights to Paige – and us! – about new ways to approach our jobs. Similarly, I believe that healing, like the success that Petra Polly promotes, is “like the sun on an overcast summer’s day – you may not be able to see it, but you will be drawn to its warmth. When it envelops the body, true change occurs.”

I can’t say I “enjoyed” this book. It’s too realistic, too emotionally RAW – for light reading. But I’m GLAD that I read it. I know firsthand that grief comes in all the shades that I first mentioned – but Nyhan reminded me that it also comes in the faintest blue of a new dawn.

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