Accidents happen every day. Just before Easter, a gust of wind caused a wall in Melbourne to collapse, crushing a brother and sister, aged 18 and 19, and another 30 year old woman.
People with their lives ahead of them. Gone forever, leaving in their wake a wide network of grief stricken family and friends.
I’m fortunate never to have experienced this kind of grief. But even the momentary unexplained absence of a loved one is enough to provoke the terrifying “What if?” of unexpected loss.
This is a central theme to Coleen Patrick’s debut YA novel, Come Back to Me.
At least, that’s how it was. Before. Before the accident that turned what should have been a momentary rift…into one big “morning after hangover” of regret and unresolved grief.
Come Back to Me is a story that explores the tough issue of grieving for someone who’s left you on bad terms. It’s about forgiveness, letting go, and finding your path back to happy.
The topic is dark, yet Coleen infuses the story with a sense of humour and hope. It’s perhaps her own experience holding onto happiness that shines through.
Coleen is no stranger to grief. She lost her brother to a brain aneurysm, aged 31. It was sorting through the pages of his life via his journal that she found the courage to write again.
“Life is for enjoying,” he wrote.
“Write, damn you. Write! Anything, something, Please!”
So write she does.
Last year she managed 72 blog posts, drafts on three different stories, and final edits on Come Back to Me.
Frankly, I’m in awe.
But there are other challenges, too.
For the past couple of years, Coleen has been struggling to find answers to a cocktail of unsettling health symptoms – neck pain, short term memory loss and nerve numbness. “Kind of like trying to find Waldo”, she jokes.
Only when the doctors find Waldo, he turns out to be an ‘idiopathic’ neurological disease for which there are no real explanations or solutions.
What might be enough to propel me under the covers for good, Coleen greets with her usual sweet stoicism.
Honey soaked challah.
“A little sweet can go a long way,” she says.
“Just the idea of it offers up HOPE”.
There’s a scene in Come Back to Me where Whitney, as part of her rehabilitation, has to climb a rock wall. She’s encouraged to see each carabineer as a clip that grounds her to the happy moments of her journey.
“What would I ‘clip’ in place as my anchor in order to move onwards and upwards?” she asks herself.
This is what inspires me about Coleen and her writing. Whether it’s honey dipped challah or ladybugs, it’s the sweet little things behind her self-confessed smiley addiction that power her forward momentum… .
I ask her about the motivation behind her story.
When my brother died, that grief was very normal. It was shared and acknowledged. That experience made me think of times in my life when I’d felt a pain that wasn’t shared. Something I’m sure everyone has felt, but not everyone knows what to do with.
Many years ago, during a lecture in college, a history professor of mine said something along the lines of – you can’t help what you feel, but you can help what you do about those feelings. This has always stuck with me. I think it’s empowering, because it gives you permission to feel and then the opportunity to choose – even if that first step is simply acknowledging that your feelings are real. That opportunity allows room for hope – and hope is another part of the story’s inspiration .
What keeps you anchored to your happy?