Two weeks ago I wrote a column about themes of death and grief in children's literature. (You can read it here.)
It's an idea I've had for more than a year, based on my uncanny knack to choose bedtime books that inevitably have a parent die. Each time we would get to a death scene (or I would infer it was coming), I would get a little angry with myself for exposing Cooper and Katie to yet another tragedy.
I've since realized that (1) it's hard to avoid death in classic children's literature and (2) it's a good thing for us to read together about the hope that comes from desperate situations.
The column ran in Friday's paper. Friday night I received the most vitriolic email from a reader in my 18-year newspaper career. I deleted the email (after forwarding it to my editors) and am still trying to forget some of the worst phrases. In general, the reader -- who refused to sign his/her name -- told me to move on, to stop using my children, to stop acting as if I'm the only one who's ever experienced a loss, to leave my dead husband alone.
Oh, the power of words.
I was shaken for two days. (It didn't help that Cooper and Katie were gone for the weekend, attending of all things a bereavement camp sponsored by a national foundation.)
I've tried to be deliberate over the past three years in separating blog material from column material. This blog started three and a half years ago to keep family and friends current on Steve's complicated diagnosis process. It has evolved into a way to share with those same folks, plus a few more who've joined us along the way, how our family continues to cope with Steve's profound absence.
I was offered the role of a Briefing columnist in the middle of Steve's cancer battle. In that very first, rather benign column (which drew all kinds of anger on a Dallas blog for being a worthless column from a suburban housewife), I made the decision to not even mention Steve's condition; this was not a column about cancer but about family life.
Of course, I eventually wrote about Steve's tumor. My editor, Will, helped me find a direction for that first column, in which I shared the silver linings of our cancer journey. As conditions and themes developed, I shared more.
When he died, I took three weeks off before sharing with newspaper readers. And in the two years since, I've written columns about our grief journey off and on, as conditions and themes develop.
Readers respond more to the topic of grief than any other theme. Almost all of them write to share a little of their own grief story.
And yet I allowed that one hateful email to obliterate the goodwill from dozens of previous notes.
Two nights later, I received an email from a reader in Flower Mound (she actually signed her name). It was a simple compliment. And it was perfectly timed. Her kind words -- words from a stranger who had no idea I was hurting -- were the balm I needed.
Oh, the power of words.