The Obituary Writer

Grief: The Sorrowful Songbird
By Neely Kennedy

The Obituary Writer In the November Ladies' Home Journal Book Club selection, The Obituary Writer, seasoned novelist Ann Hood expertly weaves together the story of two women on the cusp of two distinct eras. Vivien “Birdie” Lowe is a grieving mistress who, following the loss of her lover in the San Francisco Earthquake of 1908, becomes an obituary writer, often honoring the lives of lost loved ones by selecting the perfect verse of poetry. Claire Fontaine, trapped in the role of a stereotypical 1950’s housewife, is torn by the choice to either remain in an unsatisfying marriage or break-up her family to pursue true love with another man, someone who offers her a deeper sense of personal identity.

In a moment when these two very different women’s lives intersect, they come to realize that they have something profound in common – living with the aftermath of a doomed love affair. Below are examples of how Vivien comes to define grief and begin healing through both her own experience and by helping those in the throes of mourning, Claire included.

“Grief made people guilty. Guilty for being five minutes late, for taking the wrong streetcar, for ignoring a cough or sleeping too soundly. Guilt and grief went hand and hand. Vivien knew that.”

“She understood that grief is not orderly; it does not follow any rules.”

“Sometimes she could visualize her grief. It was a wave, a tsunami that came unexpectedly and swept her away. She could see it, a wall of pain that had grabbed hold of her and pulled her under.”

“Vivien let them tell her about places of birth and accomplishments, number of grandchildren and siblings. Then, when they were finished, she would say again, ‘Tell me about your loved one.’ That was when the person began to come to life."

“She knew the things that brought comfort: hot tea, clear broth, a blanket on one’s lap, the sound of one’s loved one’s name said out loud, someone to listen, a hug.”

“Sometimes she quoted a poem, as if to make a point. ‘Love one another but make not a bond of love. Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.'”

BOOK CLUB BONUS: Is there a song lyric, poem, or book passage that reminds you of a lost loved one?



If you enjoyed Neely's article, subscribe to our monthly eNewsletter to receive more suggestions from Neely, other fresh ideas for discussion and much more!


Back to Ladies' Home Journal index.