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For a long time, some of us in the writing group of bereaved mothers did not find it easy to speak freely about our children among people we did not know. The publication of the book,  Farther Along: The Writing Journey of Thirteen Bereaved Mothers changed that for some of us.

We could speak of our children—all of them—within our group of thirteen. It has been a gift to have that comfort for us. But outside the group, others sometimes expected us to “be over” the loss of a child or they worried that if they said the name of our dead child, we would become upset.

When the book was published, we found ourselves telling our stories afresh to strangers and friends alike. And others were reading our stories and knew personal details about us. It has taken some getting used to. It has brought griefs to the surface again in several cases and hope and comfort too. That we still (and will always) have those vulnerable places in our hearts hasn’t really changed because of the book.

In some situations, the book has been our ticket not only to tell our stories, but to offer help, comfort, support and hope to other bereaved parents. And we had certainly hoped that the book would do that.

Last fall Kathy and I spent a two-hour train ride from Paris to Angers conversing with a young man who was coming home to visit his family after working in China. Finally he wanted to know why we were visiting France, so we told him about our writing group of bereaved mothers and the book that had just been published. With the wisdom of a twenty-something, he told us he thought that the book would be a great help to others, that he knew families who had suffered grief, that some in his own small town could benefit from the hope in the book. He did not look away when we told him about our son and daughter who had died. We gave him one of our cards as we said goodbye in Angers and continued on our adventure.

While we were at Chateau du Pin, several of us rode in a hot air balloon that floated slowly over the Loire valley and the river of that name late one afternoon. Beth, Monica, Peggy, Barbara, Kathy, Beverly and I saw a swath of rainbow near the sun. Once we were aloft, Beth asked Michael, the aeronaute, where we were going. “Je ne sais pas,” he answered as he smiled and shrugged. Of course he did have some navigational instruments, but would we have allowed ourselves to take such a voyage a few years ago?

Shakespeare and Company: Another of Peggy’s and my adventures was to find the Paris bookstore near Notre Dame that stands as a tribute to the original Shakespeare and Company owned by Sylvia Beach. Beach published James Joyce’s Ulysses when no one else would, and the shop was a favorite place of Hemingway, Stein and other authors. (You can see it in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris if you want to see Owen Wilson wandering through it.) Peggy and I enjoyed browsing for a while, then I approached the manager and told her about our book and our group.

Jo after receiving a copy of Farther Along

Jo after receiving the copy of Farther Along. Photography is not allowed on the first floor inside the shop, so she came outside to pose for this photo.

She said she would be honored to have the book in the shop and stamped the inside of the book with the famous “Shakespeare and Company” stamp. I had placed a card on the bulletin board near the children’s section where people from all over the world have left messages, and I sneaked a card into the writing closet with an old typewriter too. Then a couple from Rhode Island started a conversation. They told me about a sister who had lost a child and brought Peggy and me outside to meet a sister from North Carolina who was traveling with them. We told them about the book and our group too.

And as Beth, Peggy, Monica and I left Paris, the last of our group, we sped to the airport in the dark before dawn. Beth conversed in her fluent French with the cab driver. She told him our story and left a card. His wife, he said, would want to read our book.

Stay tuned for future stories about Monica’s trail of cards all over Paris and beyond.

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