by Rick Bentley – The Fresno Bee
Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 | 12:00
On Oct. 2, local communications administrator Armen Bacon and former Fresno State English instructor Nancy Miller released “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss, and Unlikely Friendship” (Globe Pequot Press, $19.95), a series of 27 essays about how they dealt with the grief that followed the death of their children. Bacon’s son, Alex, died in 2004 from a drug overdose; Miller’s daughter, Rachel, died four years later, also from an overdose.
“After my son died in 2004, I was writing for my life. It was a catalyst for everything I was writing. I got a call from a friend at Fresno State who had a friend whose daughter died on Christmas Day. They knew I was navigating through the grief and asked if I would make contact with her,” Bacon says.
Bacon sent Miller an email message: “Even though I don’t know you, I feel an urge to wrap my arms around you … I promise we will just be two women coming together in this moment of darkness, a place I’ve come to call Griefland. I’ve been living here for four years, so I’ll show you around.”
The moment Bacon and Miller met, they felt chemistry and a bond. Miller describes meeting Bacon: “The day I met her, it was raining hard, as though the whole world was sobbing along with me. Our eyes met across that bagel shop’s expanse of tables and chairs, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say my daughter and her son matched us up. It was pure magic, pure energy. I felt like I’d been thrown some kind of divine life preserver, and the ocean surrounding me, even that early in our relationship, felt like it was not quite as cold, not quite as terrifying. I had someone next to me who I believed would always show up, would not let go of my hand.”
After countless exchanges, Bacon suggested that because they were writers, they should try to chronicle their journey through the emotional rapids they faced since the loss of their children.
Each essay in “Griefland” is part of the efforts by the two women to deal with life in the aftermath of their loss. One thing that surprised them was a lack of such material in bookstores. They were able to find several good books about dealing with the loss of a spouse, but there was little on the death of a child.
About 1500 pages of emails sent between the women — mostly written in the middle of the night — act as bookends for each essay.
Bacon says they shared everything they were feeling. In the chapter about how people have trouble finding the right words to say to someone after such a loss, Miller’s email says: “Everyone seems to lack language to describe this moment. And what’s really ironic is that we ourselves can’t imagine this is happening to us. We are just as horrified as each other.”
The joint writing process broke down rather naturally, with each composing an essay based on what they were feeling at the time. One chapter was sparked by how Bacon felt like she had become a stranger in her own skin and how she saw a very different woman staring back at her from the mirror.
“I needed to write about that,” Bacon says. “The book became part of the healing process. It concludes with the lessons we have learned and the gifts our children left behind.
“Writing the book has given us permission to shake hands with grief. We will both walk through life with this gigantic crack through us, but at some point you have to make the conscious decision not to be a victim.”
Both Bacon and Miller look at the book as something good that’s come out of their tremendous losses. They’ve been overwhelmed by the reactions they’ve received, including many people sharing their stories of loss. Those stories will be part of their next book.
Miller, who taught at Fresno State and Fresno City College for about 17 years and was managing editor for The Business Journal for more than six years, moved to Olympia, Wash., to take a teaching job at South Puget Sound Community College. Bacon remains very active locally as Administrator, Communications & Public Relations for the Fresno County Office of Education and a regular contributor to The Fresno Bee.
Read Armen Bacon story
Read Nancy Miller’s story