Sorry For Your Loss
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Sorry For Your Loss
“Grief is a difficult thing,” Dad said. “And losing a parent – let alone two – is life-changing at any age. But for someone so young, well, I can’t imagine how awful it must be.”
“And I just made it worse,” I said.
Dad smiled sadly. “You may not have helped, but I doubt you made it worse. Look, Oren isn’t in a place right now where anyone can say anything that will help. He needs to work through his grief, and all we can do is be there for whatever he needs. Even if what he needs is space and time to sort it out himself.”
It made sense, but I still felt like I’d messed up. “And not some random girl who will talk his ear off.”
Dad nodded and sighed. “I’m sorry to say you’re probably right there, Evie. But you have to remember this isn’t about you. Part of being a good funeral director – and even a good friend – is knowing that someone may not want to be consoled. They may not welcome your words of support, and you need to respect that. Let Oren grieve in his own way.”
I had wanted to help so badly. I thought about how hard I had tried to get him to talk. How I’d kept thinking how hard it was for me.
“Tell you what,” Dad said. “Why don’t you head home and get started on the salad for dinner. I’ll go see about Oren. We’re just about done with his uncle anyway.”
“All right,” I said, disappointed. I was already a giant failure in my role as a junior funeral director.
“Evie,” Dad said, his hand landing on my shoulder before I could turn away. “Don’t forget that dealing with grieving families is the hardest part of this job. You already have a take-charge attitude and good instincts – these are great qualities for a funeral director, and they can be hard to teach. But what you can learn is that everyone is different. Sometimes your take-charge attitude can get ahead of those good instincts. Learning how to read people and what they might need is part of the job too. That will come with time.””
Evie is just 12, but she already has a keen interest in the family funeral home business. She isn’t obsessed with death nor is she a ‘corpse girl’ who smells like death, as some of the bullies at school call her. Evie’s parents are planning a double funeral for Oren’s parents who were killed in a car accident which seriously injured him as well. Evie is initially asked to help Oren while the adults make funeral arrangements. This evolves into her being asked to spend more time with him over the summer in an effort to help him cope with the major changes in his life.
Evie is an outspoken chatterbox with a big heart and a genuine interest in helping people. As this coming-of-age novel progresses, she gains self-awareness as well as insight into her role of helping others with their grief. While she continues to do more mundane tasks at the funeral home, such as cleaning, polishing and handing out tissues, she also begins to understand the basics of counselling and therapy and how they can be used in the grieving process. Evie learns when to talk and, more importantly, when to listen. She learns that silence while working on something like an art project can be as helpful as chatting. Joanne Levy gives her readers a thoughtful, inspiring and often humorous main character who comes to grips with her own sadness in the midst of helping others.
Oren’s initial reaction to the loss of his parents is simply not to speak. Gradually, Evie learns to interpret his various shrugs and other gestures, and eventually their conversation moves to her speaking and his answering via text message. Oren is understandably lost without his parents and must begin to recover not only from his own physical injuries but from deep emotional trauma. The only adult in his life is a bachelor uncle who has no experience with kids, and so Evie and her parents step in as Oren’s much-needed support in the weeks following his parents’ death.
Joanne Levy deals with the themes of grief and mourning in terms that the target audience can understand. Part of Oren’s grieving process is aided by knowing exactly what happened to his parents when they passed away. Evie explains various Jewish rituals to him, stressing the care and reverence used when dealing with the deceased. At Oren’s urging, she even finds ways to show him behind the scenes in the funeral home. Far from being morbid, this helps Oren understand reality, and he realizes that, even in death, his parents were well cared for. While not erasing his grief by any means, Oren’s new knowledge makes it easier to cope.
Sorry For Your Loss is written with a hopeful tone, with some humorous passages and a great deal of empathy for young adult readers who may be dealing with loss, perhaps of family such as grandparents, or others within their circle of friends. The vocabulary is suitable for the target audience and chapters are short.
Grief and mourning are difficult topics for anyone at any age, and Levy’s book treats her subject matter and her readers gently and with understanding. The warmth, patience and empathy shown by Evie and her parents eventually help both Oren and his uncle come to terms with the tragedy in their family. While the themes might be painful, the book is anything but sad, and it will give its readers some insight into grief as well some tools and suggestions for dealing with it in a proactive and positive way.
Ann Ketcheson, a retired high school teacher-librarian and classroom teacher of English and French, lives in Ottawa, Ontario.