Author Sheree Fitch's latest book aimed at helping people grieve
East Coast children's author wrote it in the wake of her own son's death in 2018
Most people know Sheree Fitch as a children's writer with a colourful, whimsical imagination, but her latest book is born of a very different sentiment.
It's a memoir about her grief after the death of her son Dustin last year.
"I'm used to doing [Kiss the Joy as it Flies], Mabel Murple and Toes In My Nose, and all those books were inspired by that boy of mine, and Jordan as well."
Dustin died unexpectedly on March 2, 2018. He was 37.
Fitch said her son had many struggles from a young age.
"But you would never trade the child you have for any more perfect version of another human being."
She was 24 when he was born.
"He was my little boy and he was my toddler and he was my struggling teen and he was my troubled man-son and he also had so much shininess and so much light in him."
There aren't many details about Dustin in the book, said Fitch.
"It's more about the experience of my sorrow of losing someone I love that much."
The title You Won't Always be This Sad comes from Fitch's own mother, Dolores Shirley Comeau. They are words she first spoke after the death of her son, Shawn.
Shawn died of complications following cancer treatment in 2012 at the age of 52.
"It acknowledges your sadness but it reminds you that it will get — if not better — it will get softer."
The writing is raw, real and explores the depths of a mother's love.
But Fitch said she didn't "just spit it out on the page and babble and blurb and bawl."
Instead, she carefully chose and sculpted moments from that early period of grief.
It's a time she describes as fragmenting and disorienting — like the day she couldn't quite make it all the way through the grocery store.
She recalled what her mother said after that happened: "Sheree, it's OK that you didn't get through the grocery store today, but I promise you, you will the next time. And instead of beating yourself up, saying, 'Oh, what's wrong with me? I can't even get groceries,' you should say, 'Good job. You got to the door.'"
'Regathering bits of myself'
Fitch said her mother and father had a lot of experience in this kind of thing. They were facilitators for an Anglican Church program that helped people deal with grief.
"In so many ways, I feel like this isn't my book. I didn't write this book. This book wrote me. And this is about Dolores Shirley Comeau's words going out into the world and providing comfort to others."
Fitch said she was reluctant to write it at first, but a friend urged her and eventually she decided it was something she had to do.
"How could I go on and be a writer if I ignored this very real experience in my life. I'm not sure I ever could go on to write happy things again."
She found inspiration in C.S. Lewis's A Grief Observed and Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff.
"It gave me permission to feel the feelings that I was feeling,which are very messy and very untidy."
She thinks just about everyone can relate to the experience.
"I think we are all in our little cones of pining wondering, 'Are we OK?'"
She found healing in the creative process.
"I'm regathering bits of myself and that feels good after being shattered."
'Part of being human'
Since the book came out in October, she's heard from others who have lost children, or other family members or friends.
She feels grateful that people are responding to the book as they are.
"I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think I was strong enough to do it."
Following in her parents' footsteps, Fitch trained as a healing lay minister with the Episcopalian Church when she lived in Washington, D.C.
"I think I learned from my parents that this thing called sorrow is the consequence of loving and we can hold spaces for us as human beings to talk about that."
Fitch said people keep telling her she's brave.
But she doesn't see it that way.
"You know, tears, they wash your eyeballs. … We should not be afraid of those cleaning-eyeball moments in our life. My problem is I think sometimes I just need windshield wipers for my eyeballs. But feeling with other people in their pain is a part of being human."
Fitch hopes her book helps people find a measure of healing.
"I hope it takes people on a journey eventually to some place where they at least feel hopeful if not happy ever after."
As for Fitch, she is still "very much … in that process."
Fitch is reading from her book Saturday morning at Fredericton's Westminster Books.
Saturday at 4 p.m. she'll take part in another question and answer session as part of the Lorenzo Reading Series at UNB Saint John.
With files from Information Morning Fredericton