Behind the Book, 1

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

Illustration by Julia Ogden (juliaogden.com)

To celebrate the upcoming publication of my novel, THE WILD IMPOSSIBILITY, I’ve commissioned watercolor sketches of moments in the book. If you follow me on social media or check in here (roughly weekly), you’ll get both a sneak preview of the book and the pleasure of seeing the artwork created by Julia Ogden.


This first illustration depicts one of the dreams the book’s protagonist, Kira, has after the deaths of her mother and baby—visions that she soon comes to believe aren’t dreams but fragments of reality. She doesn’t understand the dreams/visions, but she believes they are somehow connected to the loss she has suffered, and they are terrifying for reasons she doesn’t explain to her husband.


Here’s a snippet from the book:

The best explanation, the one she wanted to believe, was that nothing was wrong with her, that she’d dozed off and dreamed, the same kind of dreams she’d had every night since her mother’s death. Of course weird things would happen after weeks of minimal sleep. And Rosa’s death had reignited Kira’s grief for Aimi. It had been there all along, buried and unresolved, a constant background thrum with the half-life of uranium, and the dreams forced it to the foreground. Every night they tormented Kira with reminders of what should have been—Aimi crying, Aimi at her breast, Aimi asleep, drooling milk.
Dan said that the dreams were a grief response, and Kira wanted to believe that. It would have made sense if the dreams were normal. What Dan didn’t know, and what left Kira disintegrating in fear every morning, was that she wasn’t herself in them. She wasn’t in the dreams at all, had no presence she could connect to her own psyche. And didn’t dreams arise from your psyche, acting out whatever drives your anxieties and regrets, your hopes, your memories? Not these. She’d been ambushed, disappeared by this teenage stranger whose identity now clung to her cerebral cortex, as tenacious as a tumor. And even odder, these dreams refused to fade or disappear with time. They stayed with her, every one of them, tangible, vivid, indelible, as if she were supposed to make sense of them.

Grief is a unique master, changing us in ways we don’t expect and revealing truths about ourselves that some of us are astonished by. The loss of a loved one, through death or distance, can be a surreal experience. Grief takes control of our minds and bodies and doesn’t let go—not properly, anyway—until we’ve marched under its command. And when we emerge from this stupor of pain, we look around, confused, unsure if the world has changed or if we have, or both.


It’s not just a feeling we have; grief causes chemical changes in the brain. (Here’s an article on that at prevention.com.) And a chapter on the biology of grieving in the book Bereavement: Reactions, Consequences and Care, explains that grief can have long-lasting effects: “Research to date has shown that, like many other stressors, grief frequently leads to changes in the endocrine, immune, autonomic nervous, and cardiovascular systems; all of these are fundamentally influenced by brain function and neurotransmitters. However, the significance of these changes is not well understood. They may be primarily adaptive physiologic responses that in some persons become maladaptive and physiologically deleterious.”


My novel’s protagonist, Kira, has an extreme response to grief that is indeed negative at first but leads her to self-knowledge. I’m guessing that’s a pretty universal long-term effect of what I’ll call, for lack of a better word, a “successful” grieving process. And accepting that what we grieve for no longer exists allows us to move on in ways we probably couldn’t have imagined or anticipated. I’m in the minority, anecdotal evidence tells me, but I believe change is good (I guess moving to Italy illustrates that pretty well), and that can include instances when it’s the result of pain or loss.

How has grief changed you? Has anything good happened as a result?

© 2018 by Cheryl A. Ossola