This whole, long process of publication—from the time the Baylor University Press offered me a contract for RECLAIMING JOY almost a year ago—has been a nonstop education for me. Who would think it would take so long to birth a book? Delivery date is September 14, with a book launch at Baylor. That’s a very long pregnancy.
Cover design did not take quite so long, but the Press design staff offered multiple choices before we settled on a beach—and not just any beach but a Nantucket beach, the place where I reclaimed joy.
Why a beach scene? Will prospective readers see my book on the shelf at the bookstore and think it’s a light beach-read novel? I see plenty of those by authors like Nancy Thayer and Elin Hilderbrand each summer on the shelves of Mitchell’s Book Corner on Nantucket.
Metaphors for Grief
Though I am a person who relies on words more than pictures, my personal metaphors for grief are almost all visual images: the empty chair, sinkholes. While I never felt like I was hit by waves of grief—another common metaphor—I often felt like I was drowning.
As I thought about how to explain the significance of the beach scene, I remembered the meme, “Life’s a beach; enjoy the waves.” No, there is nothing enjoyable about the waves of grief. Most of us would use that other five-letter word that begins with a “b” and ends in “ch” to describe life without our spouse.
In fact, in titling this blog, I have some of the same misgivings I had when I titled my book. My original working title was REJOICE, a theologically accurate summary of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. I worried that a new widow would be offended by the mere suggestion that she should rejoice. Shortly after I began writing, a longtime friend lost her husband. At dinner one night she said, “I feel like all the joy went out of my life when he died.” I had my title: RECLAIMING JOY. That is what we all want but too often give up on too quickly. A recently widowed friend told me, “I just want to be happy again.”
To me, the beach scene symbolizes all the possibilities. There is the vast emptiness of the beach, the ocean and the horizon—as empty as our days and our lives feel when we first find ourselves alone. But in that endless horizon, we can find endless possibilities if we look hard enough. I see promise for the future in this scene. I can fill it with whomever and whatever I choose. I can choose joy.
When I started writing four years ago, I envisioned a cover with an empty chair in a darkened room, just a little sunlight from the window at the side. I use that photo on the welcome page of my website. The Press actually designed an alternative cover with an empty chair, but I now see that is too dark a metaphor. Like most memoirs written during the early stages of grief, the empty chair symbolizes all we have lost with no hint of the possibilities and choices we have.
So I chose an empty beach, a calm sea, a peaceful scene, an endless horizon. In the emotional storms that overwhelm us, we long for calm, peace, contentment and serenity. We reach that point in our journey when we accept our situation and lift our eyes from ourselves to focus on others. That is the first step to joy. That is what my book is about.
And maybe this summer I will finally be ready to play in the sand and enjoy the waves.
Ella’s memoir of her journey from grief, RECLAIMING JOY: A PRIMER FOR WIDOWS, will be released September 14. You may preorder now from the Baylor University Press or Amazon.