Sunday, March 6, 2016

Dispatch #49: The Grief Scale

by Lupe Fernandez

I read a memoir called The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp. She chronicles her grief over the diagnosis of her son Ronan from Tay-Sachs disease. I was struck by her concept of grief hierarchy. Are some personal losses more important than others? My grief is deeper than yours and therefore more deserving of sympathy, empathy, etc…? The flip side, she writes, is that your grief isn’t worthy of tears and rage so get over it.

I’m walking from home Burbank Elementary school and my watercolor painting in my hand flies off. I chase after it. The paper tumbles on the sidewalk, almost within my grasp, but the wind hurtles the painting into the street. I’m not supposed to go into the street; I lost the painting and I’m sad.

I’m in the sixth grade and standing in line on the black top for something important – I don’t remember what – and Christine Hills cuts in front of me. I protest. She punches me and I cry. My best Ramon Vasquez asks if I’m crying. No, I got dirt in my eye. Sure, he doesn’t believe.

Loss and humiliation. Where do these do these feelings place on the grief scale?

1 is Amusing Laugh

10 is Psychiatric Hospital Admission

Not the same as terminal illness.

My brothers and I were playing softball on the front lawn. Somebody – I’m not naming names – hit the ball and shattered my parent’s bedroom window. We knew our father would be furious. Trouble was a cannonball in my stomach. I cowered against my dresser, tasting tears and snot rolling across my lips. Or my teen years when I never knew what mood my alcoholic father would be in when I came from school.

Where am I on the scale?

I limit these recollections to childhood and adolescence as I middle grade and young adult fiction.

Nobody close to me died – my father left his mortal coil during my first quarter at UCLA, thus falls out of the purview of Children’s Literature.

In my stories, characters suffer emotional trauma and some of them die. Their grief never happened in this world, so why would the reader care? It’s not memoir.

But writing fiction – aside from being a part of my depression management – allows some characters fall in love, participate in great adventures and become better people.

And they get to grief however the hell they want.


  1. My characters need more grief. Yours are cool.

    1. Susan...sniffle...thanks...sniffle, sniffle...for reading...sniffle, sniffle, sniffle...our post.

  2. I think we can relate to grieef and other emotions in stories, because we know these things are real, even if that particular situation is fiction.


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