• Sofiya Pasternack

Grief and the Debut Author

What comes to mind when I say the word "grief?"


Probably funerals, right? Death. Loss. Crying. Rending of garments.

And yes. That's definitely a component of grief, and a situation in which it makes sense to experience grief.


The words "grief" and "mourning" are oftentimes used as synonyms. "Bereavement" may be included as another synonym. But these terms are all slightly different.


Grief is the process of psychological, social, and somatic (physical) reactions to the perception of loss. The sadness, depression, anxiety, isolation, and physical ailments that can happen after a loss are considered grief.


Mourning is the cultural response to grief. In the USA, mourning follows certain patterns, which are entirely different from mourning in Brazil, or China, or Saudi Arabia. Every culture, even every subculture down to family units, has a unique mourning process. Burials versus cremations, wearing black versus wearing white, sitting shiva, going to wakes . . . all of these are different ways of mourning.


Bereavement is the state of having suffered a loss. If you have experienced a loss, you are the bereaved, whether you have grief or not.


Grief is one of the most universal experiences of human beings, but it's almost one of the most individualized. No two people experience grief in the same way. Grief is affected by mourning culture, but also by that individual person's relationship to the loss (the more important the person or thing that was lost, the more intense the grief will be), that person's personality, and other current or past stresses.

There are stages of grief, but these stages are somewhat confusing. Grief doesn't move in a straight line. It's more like a tangle of yarn. You wrestled with this tangle a week ago, you got it all untangled and wound up nicely and put away, but now when you came back to it, it's tangled again! So you have to pick at it again, untangle it. And next week, maybe that yarn will be fine. Maybe it will be a little tangled. Maybe it will be a rat's nest again. You never know.


"Sofi," you may be asking yourself right now, "this is all very interesting, but what does this have to do with debuting a novel?"


That's a good question. What the heck does grief have to do with something really good? You got an agent! You got a publisher! Your cover is beautiful! Your book is in stores! People are reading it! You should be happy, happy, H A P P Y !


But you're not.


You're kinda sad.


But you're happy, too.

Your ball of yarn tangles and untangles and tangles again.


You have experienced a loss, after all.


When you're writing your book, it belongs to you and you alone. Maybe you show it to your critique group