A Season of Grief

A Season of Grief

by Bill Valentine

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This unique book celebrates a long-term, interracial relationship and details the everyday struggles of a surviving partner trying to carry on in a radically changed world.

A Season of Grief chronicles the author's emotional descent after the violent death of his partner of 21 years. Bill Valentine's journal of fear, anger, denial, and loneliness captures the glimmers of hope, moments of serendipity, and mysterious coincidences that emerged from his full-time devotion to grief following the death of Joe Lopes. Lopes died along with 264 others when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in November 2001 in route to the Dominican Republic. It was the second deadliest accident in U.S. aviation history.

He is a word always on my lips as I try to work him into a conversation. He is a memory that I strive to keep alive. So yes, in this sense, he is not gone. But in reality, he is. He is gone as my lover. He is gone as my life partner. He is gone as my soul mate, the only person to whom I periodically bared my soul. He is gone as my best friend, the only person to whom I ever attached that label. So pardon me while I still hang on to the notion that he is not here with me. Pardon me while I cling stubbornly to the insistence that he is gone.

Valentine's candid and thoughtful account of his heartbreaking efforts to make sense of his partner's death—and survive in a world without him—is by turns, funny, frightening, sobering, and surprising. In the nine months following the tragedy of Flight 587, Valentine finds every waking moment of his life affected by his partner's absence—from mundane household chores to major life decisions. A Season of Grief is a story told in darkness and light, of hurt and healing, love and loneliness, but mostly, of a man who learns to live with his partner's absence through the persistent, surprising evidence of his presence.

Our job on earth is to live with uncertainty, ambiguity, and hope. We are given a limited tool set but one, in my opinion, that's sufficient for the job. Sufficient to allow us to be engaged in life-to love, grieve, work, play, celebrate, and despair. We have a remarkable ability to rebound and grow. We have been granted the capacity for wonder and laughter—especially at ourselves. These last two gifts were bestowed generously on Joe and he, in turn, taught me how vital they are.

Making a strong case for gay marriage, A Season of Grief chronicles Valentine's struggles to be recognized as a surviving spouse, including a historic lawsuit with Lambda Legal Defense and Education fund against the New York State Workers Compensation Board. Valentine and Lopes took every conceivable step to formalize their relationship, including New York City Domestic Partnership, but the Workers Compensation Board and a New York State appeals court refused to recognize Valentine as a legal surviving spouse.

Grief doesn't come with a set of instructions. But A Season of Grief can help guide you through the lonely journey that follows the death of a loved one. Valentine's memoir is a testament to the healing power of reality and the enduring nature of love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781317706038
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 01/14/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 222
File size: 3 MB

Read an Excerpt

January 14 I’m feeling sorry for myself this evening. Having to shop, cook, take care of the cats, clean, all by myself. The cats aren’t helping, Ollie is begging for food. Loretta insists on jumping in my lap while I’m eating, even after I repeatedly tell her no.

I’m angry with Joe for leaving me. I’m angry with him for being such a people pleaser, for not facing reality at times in order to keep everything nice. I’m dredging up everything I can to throw at him. Why do I do this? Am I jealous at how much he was loved? Do I wish I had been more like him? Do I feel that I didn’t love him enough? Do I think that he would be having an easier time of this if he were in my position?

Arghhh. I don’t know. I’m too tired to try and figure it out. I talk with him about all this, but I don’t get anywhere. I go to bed.

January 15 I hate having to make the bed myself every morning.

My first book club meeting since November 12th. I laugh, I participate, I make jokes. It feels good, except all the while I am conscious of Joe’s absence. We have a new member and he has to learn the facts. Steve lays them out in a matter of fact manner and the meeting just goes on. At one point Steve refers to "a bad autumn" and cites 9/11 and Joe’s death. I cringe. There is still a part of me that can’t believe it and rebels when people use words that confirm it. Earlier in the day in a routine office meeting we are talking about a former employee and one of my staff members said, "I saw her at Joe’s service." It is so odd to me that for this young person-he is 24-Joe’s service is a reference point. What must it be like for survivors of World Trade Center victims to hear the constant drumbeat of 9/11, 9/11, 9/11? Flight 587 has pretty much dropped off the radar screen, but 9/11 has become such a stock phrase in our national dialogue. We hear it all the time and yet, to the! survivors, it must be a dagger to the heart, translated each time into "Frank’s death," "Susan’s death," etc.

Gary says to me after the meeting, "I don’t see how you can say that he is gone, he will always be with you." I want to say: Trust me, he is gone. It just ain’t the same. I believe in his energy and spirit being present, but it’s a far cry from having him physically here. Right now, death is everything. It sucks. I hate it and I hate the fact that I’m left here alone with this paradox that "Joe will always be with me" and that I am supposed to move on and even "find love again."

Walking home from the 116th Street subway station brings back happy memories. It’s all downhill, the final stretch. There’s a beautiful view of the steeple of Riverside Church. Home beckons. I don’t know if it’s better to look up and see a dark apartment, or to see a light on. A dark apartment gives the impression that there is a hole in the building, compared to the lighted apartments above and below. It makes me think of the hole in the north tower of the World Trade Center. But leaving a light on leads to this inevitable brief flicker of hope that he is there waiting for me.

January 16 A sad day. I stay home from work and write. At one point I try, and fail, to take a nap. I have not been able to nap since Joe died. Later there is a bombshell in the mail: Joe’s EZ Pass statement. I am not familiar with these statements, I wasn’t aware of the detail they capture. Glancing at it I see a line indicating that he passed through Triborough Bridge toll plaza on November 12th at 5:51:56. This is the last record I have of him being alive.

I completely fall apart. I haven’t had one of these no-holds barred crying jags in a while. When I can speak, I call Sarah and she comes down and sits with me. How can technology capture to the exact second his presence in a tollbooth, and then fail so miserably a few hours later and send 265 people to their death? Sarah says, "It’s rotten, just rotten."

I don’t think Joe was ever late for work. When he had an early sign-in, his ritual would be to count backward from his sign-in time to the time he had to get up. For Flight 587 it would have been: 7 a.m. sign-in, 6:30 parking lot, 5:30 leave the apartment, 4:45 wake-up. In the course of his eighteen-year career with American, I can remember him calling in sick only twice. Shouldn’t this count for something? Why didn’t his dedication, his precision in assuring that he was always on time, his discipline in reporting to work year after year without absences, protect him? The same questions came up for me when Lesley told me about his singing "Mr. Big Stuff" on the plane. Didn’t his gracefulness, indicate a way of being in tune with the universe? Didn’t it suggest that flight was almost a natural condition for him in a way that it wasn’t for others? Shouldn’t all this have prevented such a violent, inelegant death?

What People are Saying About This

Flora Miller Biddle

"BEAUTIFULLY CRAFTED, CANDID, AND EXTREMELY MOVING. The intelligence, honesty, and insight with which Bill Valentine examines and expresses his feelings are extraordinarily generous and caring. I believe that this book will be a tremendous help and comfort to those who mourn, and will help us all to confront and deal with our grief and loss"
Chairman Emerita, Whitney Museum of American Art and Author of The Whitney Women and the Museum They Made

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A Season of Grief 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Grief for the loss of a loved one is not a new topic for current literature. Such luminaries as Joan Didion, Mark Doty, Andrew Holleran, and Michael Cunningham have addressed the grieving process in novel form, poetry, memoir, and homage. And new author Bill Valentine steps into that realm with a brief but richly detailed examination of death, of memory, of residual, of extended family - all of these ingredients and more that underscore the fact that perhaps the loss of his beloved Joe Lopes, his life partner of 21 years in the tragic crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in November of 2001, has provided him with a new window and a new life as a writer of obvious talent.Valentine presents his story of the 'other AA crash' that occurred in November of 2001 too soon after the 9/11 event to elicit the worldwide attention of that tragedy as a starting point to remember and recreate a relationship of such rare beauty that reading about it is staggeringly impactful. Valentine very wisely does not emphasize the mourning he endured (although his retelling of that aspect is understated and deeply touching), but instead takes the path of the 'ending' to reminisce about not only his meeting and formation of a relationship but also about the backgrounds of both him and his partner, an exceptionally quiet and private sanctuary that allows us the reader to better appreciate the aura of both men.Some write about grief and mourning in a manner that seems to dig a hole of self pity, and that is most assuredly not the direction Valentine takes. He does not avoid for a second the impact of every detail of the loss of Joe - dealing with family, with the cremation, with friends, with pets, with things shared by the couple that suddenly become the responsibility of one partner, with the 'I' that replaces the 'we' - and yet what he offers us is a warm embrace of survival technique, a memoir as lovely as any that has been written. Valentine steps quietly into the arena of artist with the publication of A SEASON OF GRIEF. Grady Harp, February 07