Books On Death, Grief, and Mourning That Helped Me Heal

It may seem strange that I’m writing about this now, when spring is on its way, but I’m not actually writing about this from a sad place in my heart. It’s a poignant place, sure, but I’m not depressed – in large part thanks to these three books. Grief is a difficult and confusing journey, but these three books have helped me more than words can say. (I’ll try to say some words anyway.)

First and foremost, I’d like to thank Things I’m Seeing Without You by Peter Bognanni. In turns heartwarming, gut-wrenching, and hilarious, the path of a young woman’s grief is mapped through journeys both internal and external. When main character Tess’ long-distance boyfriend commits suicide, she wrestles with a lot of emotions I recognized. Her father’s alternative funeral business opened my eyes to non-traditional funeral options, and I found healing talking to a friend who is in the Order of the Good Death. I found this was the first book I connected with in the past few years that I thought really GOT IT – it’s understanding, understated, and underestimated. (And it really is funny. It seems unlikely, but trust me. It really is)

The second book on the list is The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan. I actually loved this book so much because I felt like my entire soul connected with it – not just the parts about loss and grieving, but the parts about being a young artist as well. Memories, mystery, and magic collide. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because I don’t want to give it away, but… just trust me on this one. Read it.

The third book was the most recent, and definitely the most challenging to read. Not because of the cast of 166 characters – although that in itself was a feat – but because it opened a lot of me up. There was one line in particular that made me cry: โ€œHe was not perfect; he was, remember, a little boy. Could be wild, naughty, overwrought. He was a boy. However–it must be said–he was quite a good boy.โ€ The book is, of course, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Based on conjecture that Lincoln returned to his recently-deceased son’s crypt a number of times, Saunders’ novel takes place over the course of a single night, told from points of view of ghosts and the living alike.

Of course, there is no ‘perfect book’ for grief. There’s no ‘perfect book’ for any given situation. But these books helped me deal with a great tragedy in my life, and I hope they’d help you too.

Manifesting Wonder

Panorama of the beach, 13/1/19

I’ve been thinking a lot about magic and what it means to me. When I was a child, it meant a letter from Hogwarts or a closet to Narnia. As I got older, I saw that magic in that regard wasn’t necessarily real, but I leaned heavily into the magic promised by romantic comedies. Now that I’m pretty much an adult (a horrifying thought) my definition of magic needs to change once again.

Coming home from England for the holidays, I was expecting to eat Wawa every day and go for long walks on the beach. Well, it’s much colder and windier in New Jersey than I remember, and even if Wawa was as delicious as promised – which it was – I was stuck with the feeling that my heart was being torn in two. I miss the magic of Oxford and my friends there, but I wanted to be present with my family in New Jersey.

The result was that, in the season of Christmas, I was reminded of all the fantasies I’ve had to abandon over the years. Not just those of Santa and bookish fairy-tale lands, but those of what my life would be like at this point. I think a part of me was holding out hope that something miraculous would happen, that it would become clear I was a protagonist and not a side-character to someone else’s story. I was waiting to be swept off my feet.

Well, it’s come time for me to find magic in the every day – small magic in moments of transit, in quiet mornings and good cups of tea. It’s come time to prove to myself that I choose to be the protagonist of my own story, by manifesting what I desire in life and appreciating what I have.

It snowed here last night, and today with a lot of encouragement from my mother, I went along to see the beach. I’m so glad I did – the wind and the snow-kissed sand made me feel like I was on another planet, filling my mind with ideas for stories and other worlds. I said to my mother,

“When I was talking to you about magic, and fearing that magic was out of my life… this is what I meant. It seems silly that I could think I would lose my sense of wonder at seeing something so vast as the ocean, or as beautiful as a sunset. Doesn’t it seem silly?” she replied,

“You’ve always seen things that way – not because it’s who you are, though you are imaginative – but because you choose to. You have to choose to manifest wonder if your life.”

And she’s right. You have to seek wonder out, cultivate it, look for it and wait for it patiently. I guess what I’m trying to say is – magic isn’t gone from my life, even if I’ll never get my letter from Hogwarts. It has just shifted to become something more quiet, more subtle, and more poignant.


A Sip of Champagne: Quick Fics Issue 1, Vol 1

Here’s what’s happening on Patreon! 1/50 in 2019. As it’s just the first week, I’m sharing my excitement with you! In the future, there will be a gap of a full week between when the issue is posted and when it is available to the public.

According to Wikipedia, there are about 1 million bubbles in a champagne flute – which is pretty impressive, even for a drink I am used to calling ‘angry Sprite’.  

 My flight back home from Heathrow was cancelled and after a teary call to my mother, an angry scream into my neck pillow, and an hour-long bus ride back into my city, it would seem  I would spend  the wintry evening alone. I was rolling my suitcase back into my flat when I heard a warm, Oxbridge-accented voice shout down to me,
“Florence! What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be halfway across the Atlantic by now.” I looked up to see Clark, the friendly computer genius who lived in the flat above mine. He had fixed my computer when I accidentally gotten a virus trying to download The Vampire Diaries bloopers – and let me just say, when I could hand my computer (including un-deleted browser history) over to the man I knew I trusted him. The fact I had a major crush on him didn’t hurt, either.
“My flight was cancelled,” I sniffled. He ducked out of the window and the next thing I knew, he was pulling my suitcase up the stairs, cursing loudly and enthusiastically about airline incompetence. He reached out a hand for my keys and, baffled, I handed them to him as he continued to complain and ramble on, interjecting his own stream of thoughts with increasingly funny anecdotes about his own fear of flying.
“Alright,” he said. “It’s Thanksgiving Eve in America, isn’t it? God, that must be awful, not to be with your family.”
“Um. Well I mean, it’s the day before Thanksgiving. We don’t really call it Thanksgiving Eve.”
“Well,” he sighed, “I don’t have turkey. As a matter of fact, I think I only have frozen toaster strudel and a bottle of champagne but – “
“What? Clark, what are you talking about?”
“We’re celebrating, of course,” he said, miffed. “I can’t leave you like this.” 

 “Clark, that’s very sweet of you, but you really don’t have to do that. Besides, weren’t you saving that bottle of champagne for a special day?” 
“Today’s as special as any.” he said. “And there’s no one I’d rather drink it with, quite honestly.” He smiled.
“Clark McCleod, are you trying to rescue me?” I asked. He laughed and his ears turned pink. 
“Definitely not. I’m just a simple man, standing in front of a woman, asking her if she’d like to get tipsy and eat some junk food.” 
I bit my lower lip to keep from grinning too broadly, and saw his eyes flick to my mouth, then back up to my eyes. 
“What flavor is the toaster strudel?” I asked. 
“Ah, raspberry I think,” he said, running a hand through his hair – “Is that a maybe?” 
“It’s a definitely.” I said, my smile widening. “And for the record, your intention may not have been to rescue me, but that’s what it feels like is happening.” He laughed. 
“No way,” he said. “When I recovered the files on your computer, that was saving. This is just a date.” As soon as the words came out of his mouth, he froze, then stuttered out: “Unless you don’t want it to be a date – then it’ll just be the two of us hanging out like we usually do.” he ran his hand through his hair again. 
“Hey.” I said, smiling and sidling up to him. “It’s a date. Although with your computer skills, I’m wondering if you had anything to do with my international flight being cancelled…” 
“No way,” he said solemnly. “I only use my hacking skills to steal from billionaires, banks, and bigots. Besides, if I’d planned this, I would’ve bought a turkey.” 
I laughed and followed him up the stairs to his flat, where he poured me a drink. 
“Cheers to Thanksgiving Eve and hackers everywhere,” I said, clinking my glass to his and then snuggling in next to him on the couch. 
“And cheers to The Vampire Diaries, free of charge thanks to a generous donation from The Koch Brothers.” he said, flicking on the TV.  

“A Discovery of Witches” – DIY Project

I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying Deborah Harkness’ book “A Discovery of Witches” – the acclaimed first book of the All Souls Trilogy. I’ve described it multiple times as delicious, and I think it’s safe to say I’m quite obsessed. This book has a special place in my heart because not only does it depict vampires and witches in my favorite ways, it takes place in the city of my heart, Oxford.

For this book, I wanted to complete a special DIY project based on the book. I thought there would be nothing more fun than creating my own Ashmole 782! For those of you who haven’t read yet, the Ashmole 782 is a magical tome that main character Diana Bishop accidentally summons in the Bodleian library.

For this project, you’ll need a hardcover book, a pencil, a ruler, hot glue, paint, patterned tissue paper, mod podge, and metallic Sharpie markers.

Step One: Choose your book.


I chose an old, secondhand copy of The Oxford Book of American Poetry by David Lehman. As you can see from the cover, the book had some stains and a rip on the spine, and was badly in need of some TLC. I thought, instead of trying to refurbish the book, why not instead transform it into something new? (And the beautiful irony of having an Oxford collection of poetry for this project was not lost on me, believe me!)

Step Two: Using the ruler, sketch out lines you’d like to define. On the cover sketch below, you can see where I outlined a sigil I designed months ago to symbolize witchcraft and what it means to me. It’s an artist’s interpretation of an age-old practice. IMG-7917.JPG

I also drew the lines I wanted above and below the sigil, as well as the line separating the spine from the cover. I knew it would look funny if I didn’t do this because the spine was made of a different material, so I wanted to follow the original integrity of the hardcover. Also – you can see from the next step I didn’t follow exactly the original sketch intended. That’s fine! At the end of the day, it’s supposed to be fun.

Step Three: Hot glue.

I don’t have a picture of this step completed, because hot glue is clear and didn’t show up on the photograph. However, it’s quite simple: using a glue gun, trace the sketch with lines of hot glue. You want to be as precise as possible on the straight lines – some glue guns have a little stand that you can use to stabilize your hand. I have extremely shaky hands so this was a lifesaver for me! Then, wait for the glue to dry before going over the stripes on the spine and back cover.

Step Four: Paint! IMG-7925.JPGHere you can see the paint on top of the hot glue. You can also tell from the picture that it’s only the first layer – I think I did about two and a half layers, adding extra paint on top of the glue because it needed it more. I also added flecks of paint using a slightly lighter acrylic paint.

IMG-7927.JPGThis is when it was still wet – when it dried, it blended in more with the background and gave it a mottled, textured look. And you can also see from these pictures my lines did not turn out exactly straight! That was fine, though, and brings us to our next step – highlighting the hot glue with Sharpie.

Step Five: Go over the hot glue design on top of the DRY paint with a metallic Sharpie. (Self-explanatory! Just make sure the paint is ABSOLUTELY dry. I would even leave this project overnight if possible to make sure!)

Step Six: Mod Podge and tissue paper.

This was really an optional step for me, but I didn’t like the asymmetry of the cover with the sigil and the lines. I carefully cut up strips of fancy printed tissue paper I had lying around and pasted them onto the spine only. You can see in the final pictures below the finished product, as well as some detail shots. I set down the patterned tissue paper as a background, so that will (hopefully!) give you some idea as to what I was working with.



IMG-7943.JPGNeedless to say, it was a TON of fun making this book look like a witchy old antique, and I really enjoyed it. If you try this project, let me know how yours turns out!

Cake Walk #1: Benโ€™s Cookies, covered market

Well, I’d been planning to go to each sweet shop in an orderly order. But things don’t always go the way we plan them, yesterday being a prime example!

Oxford peeps – do you recognize this enormous white chocolate cookie?

That’s right! It’s from Ben’s Cookies, where I got a tin of four freshly baked soft gooey cookies ๐Ÿ˜

It was kind of magical how it happened – I’d only been planning on going into the city for a few things, but at the bus stop ran into an international student who I haven’t seen in some time. She told me it was her name day and I – jumping on any chance for a celebration – said at once, “We MUST go to get cookies or cake for you!”

It was really a wonderful day wandering through Covered Market. I must admit we ate out of order – we gobbled down the cookies while waiting for our Greek food – and I thought to myself, “I could probably do this for a living!! Travel food writer!”

Even if I never get to live that dream, I give Ben’s Cookies five stars ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ!!