There’s an old Cherokee legend about two wolves who fight; one is evil and the other is good. It warns that the same fight is going on inside every person, and the wolf that wins is the one you feed.
When Kathleen Hathaway Mitchel lost her brother and children, she had a choice, and she chose to feed “the wolf of hope, kindness, and humility,” she says in her new book, Treasures in Tragedy.
Part memoir, part advice, the book hopes to give inspiration to all who have lost a loved one. Mitchel’s personal journey with pain started in 1985, with the stillborn birth of a daughter. It continues with the death of her 16-year-old son in 2003 from leukemia. In the book, it ends with the suicide of her mentally ill brother in 2007.
Mitchel takes us through her sorrow in detail, from the anger to the intense sadness to the incredible havoc all this can wreak on normal functioning. There was a time when “[s]eemingly simple questions became impossible to answer”, like a simple “How many children do you have?” Is it one living child, or is it three with an explainer?
Then, she lets us take inspiration from her slow healing process, from reading about death, to writing poetry to express her feelings, to making memorial quilts or stuffed animals to honor her children.
She talks about how death made some of her friends and family uncomfortable, so they’d avoid the topic, or her. Mitchel actually includes a handy list of suggestions for those in an awkward spot. For example: “Do call me. Don’t expect me to call you. Do listen to me. Don’t offer advice or tell me what to do. Do let me talk and cry. Don’t tell me what to feel or compare my grief.”
That list is meant for grief situations, but it can apply to many instances of disappointment or other tragedy. A sick friend was just complaining to me about her health and chemo treatment, and I thought about this list and modified my typically Western response to find a silver lining. Instead, I just listened and acknowledged her trauma.
Treasures in Tragedy writes of the joy and sadness in life, but encourages people to carry on- and feed the good wolf within.
More at www.kathleenhathawaymitchel.com.