My new romance, Making a Comeback, is deeply personal to me. I hope it’s also universal because that’s what I believe writing and reading are. As a writer, I go down into the mines of my personal history and life experiences and coalesce those images into something that says, “Guess what? Me, too.” (To give credit where it’s deserved that truth was brilliantly given context in a July Facebook post by one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott.) A reader, and I’ve been an avid reader since I was old enough to hold a book, hitches a ride for some hours and hopefully closes the book with a sigh, as if saying goodbye to a dear friend, and a sense that she’s been given an experience, a glimpse into life, that either leaves her saying, “Thank goodness I’m not the only one,” or, “Hmm…I never thought of life in that way before,” or, “Gosh, I’m glad I’ve been spared that.” In any event, my desire as a reader is to be emotionally affected and changed by my interaction with a book. My goal as a writer is to be the architect of that reaction in a reader.
At its heart Making a Comeback is a story about the intersection of love and grief. I think it’s an interesting question about the nature of life, the unpredictability of both tragedy and joy, and a viable, if not often explored, question for a romance. I faced that very question in my own life (I didn’t write the story to examine that experience but I certainly drew from it) when at age thirty my partner, with whom I expected to spend the rest of my life, died. I’d lost my mother and all my grandparents in the prior five years so I had some experience with loss and grief. But nothing prepared me for that singular loss, as if part of me was suddenly not there. Dreams, plans, companionship, sex, that special bond of intimacy…gone. The warm-fall-day softness of love was replaced with the thick, chilling, encasing fog of grief. Life became putting one foot in front of the other with no hope I’d ever see the sun again. But time worked on me…breathing hurt less bit by bit, Kleenex wasn’t part of my everyday attire, I could laugh, and find peace in nature. I entered chiropractic school as we had planned. Within a year, I met a woman. Common interests led to friendship. Friendship led to the unmistakable stirrings of romance. Clearly my heart was capable of loving again, but my mind balked. Was I being disloyal to my partner? How long was appropriate to grieve? It was too much for me and I walked away. In time, other opportunities for love came along and I said yes to them.
I wanted this story to say, among other things, that love has no timetable. It simply shows up when two hearts connect and we have the choice to let it heal and enrich our lives or to run from it and cling to the past. Should we love again? When is too soon? How do we honor our feelings for the lost relationship while not allowing ourselves to be frozen by grief? How do we preserve memories while not becoming curators of old photographs? How do we reconnect with ourselves, our own dreams, separate from shared plans for the future? I don’t have the right answers because there aren’t any. Characters in the story resolve those questions in different ways.
I came to see that at its healthiest grief is a transition, not an end point. It’s an acknowledgement that we have loved, a way to honor something ending, and a passage back into the stream of life. We can’t keep a lost love alive by cutting ourselves off from new love. In fact I’d argue that by clamping down on our hearts and turning away from our capacity to love, we do the old love a disservice. As Liz’s sister, Hannah, tells her, “Your ability to feel love and passion doesn’t stop because Teri’s no longer the focus for those feelings. You don’t betray her by letting yourself feel again. You do betray yourself if you don’t.”
This is a story about the courage to let grief change us but not destroy us, the courage to dare to live and love again in the aftermath of tragedy. It’s a story about trust and the power of radical acceptance and unwavering support to mend broken lives. And ultimately it’s a story about the healing power of love that opens up the most sought after of paths—that of joy. As Liz tells Jac at the end as they walk on the beach, “I wouldn’t have wished loss and grief on either of us. It’s like we were tossed in the ocean and carried away by currents that stranded us far from where we thought our lives were headed. We made our way back. Together.”
So yes, there’s crying and sadness. There’s also laughter and great tenderness, friendship and family. There’s music and dancing, walks on the beach, snorkeling, and a zip line. There’s an adorable guide dog named Max. And at the end, there’s passion and renewal, a comeback of the heart and soul. I invite you to spend time with Liz and Jac, to empathize with their sorrows and cheer their progress along the path of recovery to a much deserved happy ever after.