For readers of The Bright Hour and When Breath Becomes Air, a moving, transcendent memoir of loss and a stunning exploration of marriage in the wake of unimaginable grief.
As the book opens: two-year-old Greta Greene is sitting with her grandmother on a park bench on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A brick crumbles from a windowsill overhead, striking her unconscious, and she is immediately rushed to the hospital. But although it begins with this event and with the anguish Jayson and his wife, Stacy, confront in the wake of their daughter's trauma and the hours leading up to her death, Once More We Saw Stars quickly becomes a narrative that is as much about hope and healing as it is about grief and loss. Jayson recognizes, even in the midst of his ordeal, that there will be a life for him beyond itthat if only he can continue moving forward, from one moment to the next, he will survive what seems unsurvivable. With raw honesty, deep emotion, and exquisite tenderness, he captures both the fragility of life and absoluteness of death, and most important of all, the unconquerable power of love. This is an unforgettable memoir of courage and transformationand a book that will change the way you look at the world.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from Once More We Saw Stars
Ever since the accident, I have avoided going to the park. The park was our place, Greta’s and mine — every tree, every leaf, every passing doggy belonged to the two of us. Even within my cocoon of shock, I am sure going there would pierce my defenses, flooding me the way my first trip outside did after she died.
And then, one day, just as the summer light is beginning to change, I wake up with a familiar itch. I need to go running in the park.
I step outside and feel only the warmth of the sun. I round the corner on the block that leads to the parade grounds, just outside the park’s southwest entrance. The street is wide, quiet, shaded. There is no one outside, no one to nod at, make eye contact with, step around.
I enter the parade grounds and run past fields full of children, my eyes fixed straight ahead. To my left, a middle-school football team is doing speed and endurance drills, dancing frantically on their toes and dropping down for push-ups. Two boys swing a bat lazily to my right, smacking a baseball into the same bulged-out spot on the chain-link. It hits the fence with a loud bong as I run past, but I do not flinch. I reach the edge of the park, tennis courts to my right.
There at the park’s mouth, my heart stirs, and I feel a peculiar elation. I recognize her. Greta is somewhere nearby. I feel her energy, playfully expectant. Come find me, Daddy, she says. Tears spring and run freely down my face. I hear you, baby girl, I whisper. Daddy’s coming to get you.
Elated, I enter the park and immediately spot her; she is waiting for me, hiding behind the big tree in the clearing between the Vanderbilt playground and the duck pond. She appears from behind the tree with a flourish, giggling, just like in our old game: She would run out into the hallway from the bedroom where we had been playing, either naked or in her diaper, and cast me an impish look, asking, “Where’s Greta?” I would feign great perplexity, turning over small toys on the floor to see if she was under them, peeking behind the couch, clutching my head in mock terror. “Oh no, what have we done?” I would moan. “We’ve lost her!” She would laugh, run back in, and announce, “Greta came right back!”
Standing in the park, staring at her, I make a strange and primal sound, deep and rich like a belly laugh, hard and sharp like a sob. You are here. You picked the park. Good choice, baby girl. Oblivious to the people around me, I run to her. She wiggles in anticipatory joy. Stooping down, I scoop her up under her soft armpits, her shoulder blades meeting at the pads of my fingers, and I lift her up into the sky. She is invisible to passersby — to them, there is nothing in the spot next to the tree where she stands laughing and clapping but a patch of grass, and there is nothing in my arms but air. But she is not here for them; she is here for me.
She gazes down at me, her smile that turned crooked at the bottom like mine crumpling her wide-open face. I bend my arms and lower her face down to mine and kiss her, slowly. Then I set her back down in the grass.
You stay here, okay? I say. Daddy’s going for a run, okay, sweetie pie?
Oh yeah, okay! she says back.
I turn around and begin running hard along the perimeter of the pond, where we had dipped her hand in the water, splashing and saying, “Here we go, ducks! Here we go!” The playground recedes behind me, where I had pushed her on the swing while she sang, “Poopy, poopy, poopy poopy,” to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” at the top of her lungs. “If my kid’s saying ‘poopy’ tonight,” the mother next to me deadpanned, “I’ll know where he picked it up.”
I feel her presence filling up my heart, and with it comes a strange exhilaration that I have felt often in the weeks after her death. Grief at its peak has a terrible beauty to it, a blinding fission of every emotion. The world is charged with significance, with meaning, and the world around you, normally so solid and implacable, suddenly looks thin, translucent. I feel like I’ve discovered an opening. I don’t know quite what’s behind it yet. But it is there.
I am treading ether, a new and unfamiliar kind of contact high. I have been raised secular by my parents, and I’ve never set foot in a church for more than an hour. But I will do anything for Greta, I am learning. And that includes becoming a mystic, so that I might still enjoy her company.
When I reach the edge of the park again, I stop and feel a torrent of words flood me. I grope for my phone, blindly choosing the most recent document, a mess of to-dos and grocery lists. Underneath a reminder to pick up pita and above a confirmation number for a UPS delivery, I write, “There will be more light upon this earth for me.”
Reading Group Guide
Exploring personal loss through
Once More We Saw Stars
by Jayson Greene.
A discussion guide by grief specialist David Kessler
1. Was there a specific passage in the book that related to your loss? If so, share the passage and how it made you feel.
2. Jayson early on talks about the challenges of telling loved ones the horrible news. What was your experience telling people? Are you still caught off guard at times having to tell someone who doesn’t know?
3. Jayson writes about a list he was given about grief. It says, “Cry as often as you need. Talk as much or as little as you need.” He says, “They are my first set of instruction of how to breath on this new planet.” Were you given any information on grieving? What helped? What didn’t? How are you doing now in your different world?
4. Jayson and Stacy used the weekend seminar to release some of their feelings of anger. Who or what are you angry about? How do you release it?
5. In my workshops, I have people not only get in touch with feelings of sadness and anger but also jealousy, such as when I had Jayson and Stacy shout, “I hate happy families.” Who or what upsets you in your grief? Given that jealousy occurs even in loss, what are you jealous of?
6. Jayson says, “Grief is a world you move into. A world of softer voices, gentler gazes, closer observation and heightened compassion. It is, in many ways, a beautiful and redemptive place to spend time.” Do you feel softened or gentler in any way after your loss? How has grief changed you? How has it changed those around you? In addition to your tragedy, have you found any beauty in the world of grief?
7. Loss and grief finds a permanent place in your heart. Are you able to still venture forth and go after those old or new dreams being the different person you are today? Have the dreams diminished, transformed or changed?
8. Jayson asks, “What did it mean to honor Greta?” Have you thought about what it means to honor your loved one who has died?
9. Jayson tells of his success rate in finding safe places to scream in crowded New York City. Where are your safe places? What do you do there? Cry? Scream?
10. If you have children, how will you teach them to live in this uncertain world? Can you teach them not to live in fear of loss? Have you been able to let go of the fear and move forward?
11. As we learn to gradually accept our loss, are you able to fully immerse yourself in your new and different life? Do you feel guilty for loving again too? Do you feel love is now overshadowed by loss, or are you free to open your heart and still allow others in?
12. Jayson shares that everywhere he looks, there is another place that Greta’s eyes will never see. He tells her, “Greta, you would love it here." Do you feel like you take your loved one with you in life? Do you have those conversations with them like Jayson?
13. Jayson and Stacy reflect on life after their loss, that “There is no limit to what we can endure?” After your loss, are there ways you feel more fearful? Do you fear death less?
14. Grief and loss are prominent aspects of life. How has it transformed you? Do you feel more prepared to handle more difficult aspects of life as a result of your loss?
15. Have you been able to find peace in your life like you once had? If so, how long did it take? What were the hurdles then and now?
16. What is your takeaway from the book you’d like to share with someone else? With whom would you share it and why?