Trevy Thomas’s mission emerges in the Preface: offer comfort and guidance for those experiencing grief. Organized as a daily reader, January 1–December 31, it gives readers insight into the murky emotional miasma of grieving. In that way, it can be read variously–from start to finish, as with any nonfiction work; from day to day, as needed; or at random, disregarding dates altogether. The January 1 entry lays out an approximation of a traditional book opening, starting (naturally) with a death and the ensuing onset of grief. The writing is especially good, setting an eloquent, meditative tone persisting throughout COMPANION IN GRIEF.
Functioning like a reference work, not linear narrative, COMPANION can’t be spoiled, but some excerpts highlight themes. Among these themes, one of the strongest and earliest is acceptance (see “Death Is a Part of Love,” January 3). Looking to romantic relationships, Thomas explains love and grief as intrinsically linked–and that eventual loss, in “this scenario, as depressing as it is, is what happens when things go right.” Grief means a loss of something meaningful; it can only happen when “things [went] right.” It’s a rarely stated but helpfully apt reminder. Secondarily, but crucially, processes of finding a “new normal” and the necessity of interpersonal outlets also appear throughout.
Does everything hang together? Yes and no. Some entries sing; others blur. Though all are brief, the shortest entries tend to be the tightest, best-written, most evocative–a few minutes of reading, probably near the maximal expendable energy for one mid-grieving. At times, COMPANION veers into tricky territory. Grief and depression–or anxiety, mood/personality disorders, other challenges compounded by death–are too-often framed as dichotomous, eliding how they can combine in perilous ways. This can lead prose toward hand-waving. If there’s one overarching critique, it’s to be found in these excerpts (June 20’s “Directing Your Emotions” with September 21’s “Sadness Doesn’t Diminish Joy” build on this theme.)
For May 31, this tension is clearest: “Direct your thoughts, even when it seems impossible. In this way, you are choosing your feelings for the day rather than being victim to them.” The worry, then, might be that grief-stricken readers would find personal fault given an inability to “direct” thoughts, rather than understanding that inability—or impossibility—as a consequence of brain chemistry beyond their control. That’s not to say many won’t benefit from consciously redirecting, or from embracing personal and worldly imperfections (June 2), just that the text requires some caveating. That’s no fatal flaw; the writing and Thomas’s more-personal anecdotes remain outstanding. For readers with professional psychological supports, yet needing outlets for comfort and renewed perspective, COMPANION IN GRIEF offers a vital palliative.
With crisp, sometimes truly lovely prose, Trevy Thomas gives readers quick daily morsels, often from explicitly described experiences. There are blind spots at times, but from the quotidian to the imaginative, any reader will find ways to find healing on their own terms.
~Andy Carr for IndieReader