Elizabeth Berg has always been one of my favorite authors. Her books are so real and her characters feel like friends I have known forever.
In the past six months, I was lucky enough to find two Berg titles I’d never read before in used bookstores. They both focused around women who had lost their husbands.
“Home Safe” is a novel about a woman whose husband dies suddenly, and after her accountant lets her know her investments are almost a million dollars short of what she might have expected, she has to unravel the mystery of what her husband did with that money. This book also looks at the relationship Helen has with her daughter Tessa.
Berg’s “The Year of Pleasures” is about Bette Nolan, a children’s book author who upends her life after her husband dies of cancer, selling their brownstone in Boston for over a million dollars and moving to a small town near Chicago, Ill., to do she knows not what.
While it was hard to relate to the financial status of both of these women, who had security and money to spend – seeing as I lost my job four days before Ed died and had to struggle to figure out how I would save my house. But I related to them nonetheless.
I loved Helen’s innocence. She was also a writer, but of adult fiction, and she began to find herself by teaching writing in her grief. I did the same thing, leading writing workshops for senior citizens in the months after Ed died.
Helen also went head to head with a daughter she loves very much, and in the end came to terms with the fact that her daughter is an individual – separate from her, with her own thoughts and feelings. I have been on that journey as well.
It was “The Year of Pleasures” that touched me most deeply, though. I read it in February while on vacation in Florida, and as I lay on the beach, I had a series of epiphanies.
After Ed died, I remember each time I got in my car, I wanted to go on a journey. I wanted to get on the highway and drive and drive and plunk myself down somewhere. Anywhere. I think I saw it as a way to get away, but I didn’t do it because I knew I had to take myself – and my grief – with me, so there was no point.
But learning about Bette up and leaving made me realize there is still a part of me that feels a tug to be somewhere else, do something different, and so I began to pay attention to that. I realized I don’t want to spend just one week of the year in Florida, for instance. I want to spend a month there, to start, and eventually, I want to stay the whole winter.
Thanks to Berg and Bette, I have started dreaming of these things, and I’ve even made contact with a realtor in Florida.
Bette also dreams and schemes about setting up a shop just for women in this new town of hers, and she got me thinking again that I’d like to have a shop of my own. I’d like to sell the crafts I make along with things like book I like, eclectic items that make clever reuse of ordinary objects, and I’d like to host events for women and mother-daughter outings.
Berg got me fired up, and I am actively dreaming and making plans.
The first step on opening the shop was cleaning up the largest section of my basement two weeks ago to create a space in which I can make things. Now, I get to start the making part and then figure out how to sell my wares – and what else to sell.
Thank you Elizabeth Berg for giving me characters that help soothe me in my grief, characters who understand what it is to lose someone you love. And thank you for lighting a fire in my soul. You will take me to the next step in my coming alive.