Most people reading this blog will already be familiar with Danny Gregory's books on journaling and creativity: "Everyday Matters," "Creative License," "An Illustrated Journal."
His latest book "A Kiss Before You Go," is a memoir of the year following the death of his wife Patti.
Before I go on with the review I have to come clean about a couple things—Danny is a friend, and I knew Patti through emails and phone conversations. I always thought there was plenty of time to get to New York and meet Patti in person. Two weeks ago, messages from Patti I'd saved on my phone came up again (they seem to do this every 90 days). I'm not a mopey type of person, the messages don't make me sad. They remind me of how fun it was to talk with Patti.
But when the book arrived in the mail I let it sit around for several days, just staring at me from the desk. I had just attended a couple funerals (for a dear friend and for a cousin). I had talked to Danny about his new book, but I still wasn't sure how he was going to go about accomplishing his goals.
I think to write about the experience of losing a life partner is one of the most courageous things a person can do. It's going to involve some raw emotions, but when done well it will be full of common experience, humor, and heart.
When I did sit down to read "A Kiss" I read it all the way through in one sitting. The book just flows along. In part the eye is led along by Danny's illustrations which are sometimes sentimental (but never maudlin), often humorous, usually self-deprecating, and always visually interesting.
But the book also flows along because the statements it contains are simple, straightforward, and honest—a look into the author's life and thoughts as he picked up the pieces of his life when the old life ended abruptly.
The journal entries contained in this volume are organized by month for the first year without Patti. The account of the accident which took Patti's life and Danny's visit to the hospital are told simply, with his eye for detail and his need to question.
What follows are musings on the loss. Events occur and raise memories. Old habits and patterns of behavior give way to new approaches. Something as potentially mundane as going to the grocery store becomes a way to honor and celebrate the care (and sometimes spoiling) Patti bestowed upon her husband and son.
And there is movement through the grief to the understanding that one can be cracked and broken by the death of a loved one, yet still be fueled by all the love and wisdom that loved one brought into your life.
I guess the best way to describe this book is to say it's a look at the little everyday things and happenings which mean the most to us—which form the fabric of our memory, creating the rich experience we label life.
Because of that I think this book is valuable to read whether or not you have experienced a loss. The book is about valuing experience, the small details of life that make it special and unique. The book is also a testament to someone who made life an adventure for everyone around her.
If you have lost a loved one the specifics of your experience may not match Danny's but the details of his journey dealing with a whole new set of "firsts" and moving on in life while Patti stays forever young, will touch your heart and help you think about the stuff of life and notions of loss in your own life and in our society. Because of, not in spite of, the raw emotions there is hope and comfort in this book.
The book offers a look into the most common of human experiences—loving someone, opening your heart, and accepting the risk and loss. I recommend it as a book to own and to give to the people you love.