Saturday, September 4, 2010
Helen Brown, author of Cleo: The Cat Who Mended a Family, stops by Chick with Books today to share a rare insight into how she dealt with the devastating sudden loss of her nine-year-old son Sam. In her memoir, Cleo, we learn of how a day can start out more or less like every other day you've already lived through, but can end so differently. When a little black kitten arrives at her doorstep, it was like a small miracle and the beginning of the healing of Helen's family. Cleo is already an international bestseller, and "is a tribute to the healing power of animals, friendship and families." Written from Helen Brown's heart, Cleo, will warm your heart. Helen believes anyone who has suffered loss can relate to her story and her answers here. Without further ado, let me welcome Helen Brown to Chick with Books...
Q: Did your close friends respond to your tragedy in the way you hoped or were they too intimidated to know how to approach you?
A: We were in such a state of shock I had no expectations of anyone at the time. The only previous experience of death I’d had was of elderly relatives. Losing Sam was out of my realms of understanding.
Friends responded in different ways. Some stayed away, not knowing what to say. Others came and wept at our house, almost asking comfort from us, which was draining. A few used the opportunity to relate their own experiences of losing an old aunt or uncle. Some quoted passages from the Bible. None of these responses was particularly helpful.
I understand all these reactions now and forgive them completely. I would have been equally useless back then. Everyone meant well and it was almost impossible for them to know how to help – particularly back in 1983 when grief counselling barely existed.
The wisest people knew instinctively that our needs were simple. We needed them to be there, to visit the house, but not for too long. To hold us and let us weep; quietly put the kettle on; or offer to take our surviving son Rob on an outing. I know plates of food seem a cliché, but the casseroles and cakes were genuinely helpful. The house was always full of people during the days after Sam’s death. They all wanted to eat.
Q : Was it difficult for you to ask for help?
A: Yes, it was because I had no idea what sort of help I needed. I thought the pain would last forever and my life was over. Over and over again people said “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”. I know they were sincere but I was too bewildered to have any idea what needed “doing”.
Q. Were you at any time angry with the world or envious of the lives of friends that appeared so much easier than yours?
A: Absolutely. The anger was irrational for several months. It rose like molten lava in me if I saw one of Sam’s friends at the supermarket. Every other family I saw seemed smug and untouched by pain. It took a while to come to terms with my own rage and understand nobody escapes loss and pain in their lives. If I was looking for proof all I had to do was open a newspaper.
About Cleo from the Publisher... Helen Brown had no intention of adopting a pet when she brought her sons, Sam and Rob, to visit a friend's new kittens. But the runt of the litter was irresistible, with her overlarge ears and dainty chin... When Cleo was delivered weeks later, she had no way of knowing that her new family had just been hit by a tragedy. Helen was sure she couldn't keep her-until she saw something she thought had vanished from the earth forever: her son's smile. The reckless, rambunctious kitten stayed... Through happiness and heartbreak, changes and new beginnings, Cleo turned out to be the unlikely glue the affectionately held Helen's family together. Rich in wisdom, wit, heart, and healing, here is the story of a cat with an extraordinary gift for knowing just where she was needed the
Helen Brown is from New Zealand, where she worked as a journalist, TV presenter, and scriptwriter. Now living in Melbourne, Australia, with her family, Helen has been voted Columnist of the Year several times. Cleo rose to the top of the bestseller lists in its first few weeks in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia and has been translated into more than eight languages. Cleo's US debut was August 31st, and is now available from your local book seller!
I want to thank Helen Brown for stopping by Chick with Books and sharing such an intimate part of her life with us. The honesty of her feelings can only help others who have suffered similar loss. Stop back Sept. 13th for my full review of Cleo by Helen Brown.