What I Know: A Guest Post by Claire Bidwell Smith

Dear Reader,

Both of Claire Bidwell Smith’s parents were diagnosed with cancer the year she turned 14, and she was orphaned less than a decade later.

The Discover selection committee readers were most impressed by Smith’s narrative voice in this searingly honest memoir about her rocky adolescence defined by grief — with all its attendant rage, regret and desperation – and her subsequent search for home.  “Smith’s prose possesses a blistering power, rendering this youthful memoir an affecting journey into loss,” says Publishers Weekly.

Her essay, What I Know, originally appeared as a More in Store feature on NOOK e-readers.

What I Know by Claire Bidwell Smith

The night my friend Julie died there was a full moon. After I said goodbye to her unconscious figure one last time I walked outside and stood in the frigid January air, looking up at the night sky. The world around me was lit up with the hushed glow of the moon and my breath came in great, smoky plumes. It was a moment I knew I would

never forget.

Julie died that night, a few hours after I had gone to sleep in the basement room of a friend’s house in the Atlanta suburbs where I had grown up. I was twenty-one years old. My mother had been dead for three years; my father hadn’t yet passed away. In the days to come Julie’s death would settle over me like a shroud, something quiet and heavy and inexplicable.

Losing a parent, an elder, is decidedly different than losing a peer. Everyone in my small circle of friends from high school who had known Julie couldn’t help but ponder our mortality. If someone as sweet and smart and seemingly destined for greatness could slip from this world so easily, what did that mean for the rest of us?

Over ten years later, and I still don’t have an answer to this question. It’s something I think about a lot though. In the last decade I’ve gone on to complete a master’s degree, establish a career, get married and become a mother – all things I am certain Julie would have done as well, had leukemia not taken her life.

So why her? Why not me instead?

I think a natural part of the grieving process involves striving to establish a framework through which to view death, a lens that reveals the hows and whys of loss. But it’s not always an easy process for everyone. Some people walk into loss with an already established belief system – something that readily explains the afterlife, and possibly the meaning of one’s current life. But for those of us who aren’t so sure what we believe it’s a different story.

In the past year, as I’ve worked on a book about the afterlife, I’ve met with countless gurus and religious figures. Over and over they’ve explained their stances, anything from reincarnation to a more clear-cut belief in the here and now. And over and over I’ve listened to what they have to say and then asked the same question: How do I find faith? Is it a matter of simply choosing to believe?

Each one has shaken their head. “It’s not about believing,” they’ve said. “It’s about knowing.

Well, here’s what I know:

I know that I miss my friend Julie dearly. I know that losing my mother and then my father stripped me so bare I hardly knew who I was anymore. I know that the painful feelings I had in the days and years following all of their deaths was really a deep, deep reflection of the love I felt for them.

And I know, I know, that the love between us all still exists. Even if they do not.

 Cheers, Miwa

Miwa Messer

Miwa Messer is the Director of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program, which was established in 1990 to highlight works of exceptional literary quality that might otherwise be overlooked in a crowded book marketplace. Titles chosen for the program are handpicked by a select group of our booksellers four times a year. Click here for submission guidelines.