JEN: This is our last discussion of See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles, but maybe the most exciting because Jo herself is joining us! Welcome, Jo!
COLBY: Hi, Jo! Thank you for See You At Harry’s.
JO: Hi Jen and Colby! Thanks for including me in your final chat. It’s been a lot of fun reading your thoughts about the book, and also about life in general.
JEN: The whole second half of the book is about how Fern and her family deals with Charlie’s death. It is always hard to read about the death of a character, but I think part of the brilliance of this story is that so much time is spent reading about how they work through their grief.
COLBY: I’ve been very blessed to not have to deal much death in my life (knocks on wood). It’s hard for me to relate to how characters would feel and grieve. For me, one reason, children’s literature is so important because it helps me understand how kids feel in these difficult times. I need to be able to have some idea of what it is that kids are feeling, because my readers in my classroom are dealing with all sorts of difficult things. Reading helps me help my students.
JO: Thanks, Jen. I rewrote this section so many times, trying to balance their grief with the inevitable tug of life moving on around them. Colby, I love how aware you are of your students’ home lives and what they might be dealing with outside the classroom. Your description is a perfect example of how books make us more compassionate, whether intentional or not.
JEN: I had a super scary experience last week with my almost-two-year-old. (He will be two in July.) He fell and his hit head really hard in our driveway but got up and was acting fine. Then, we were running up and down a hill in our backyard and he plopped down on his butt…and then he stood up and starting crying. I scooped him up and watched as his eyes rolled back into his head and he lost consciousness. It was the scariest thing I have ever seen. I immediately yelled for my husband to call 911. An ambulance trip, an ER visit, a CT scan, and hours later, we were so relieved that everything was okay. The neurologist thinks he had some kind of post-traumatic seizure from the fall in the driveway. It was such a huge weight off of my shoulders to know he was okay.
COLBY: Seriously, I can’t imagine experiencing what you experienced. Especially after reading See You At Harry’s. I’m so glad your little guy is okay. I would have totally been freaking out.
JO: Oh no, Jen! That is terrifying. I’m so relieved that he’s OK! And that you had him checked out.
JEN: I know! I have to say I was so much hyper-aware of how important it was that we have him checked out after reading See You At Harry’s!!!
Now, I can think about how I reacted at the time and other times my kids have been hurt. I’m the kind of person who becomes completely calm in a crazy situation – it’s like the emotional part of my mind just turns itself off. I know I have to be focused and clutch in the moment. It never crossed my mind that I was holding my dear sweet bean in my arms and that he might not be okay. All I could think was what I needed to do: what I needed to tell my husband to tell the dispatcher, what I need to tell my older son to make sure he wasn’t scared, where I needed to go to meet the ambulance, that I needed my wallet. And I stay that way until things are settled down…and then I fall apart. Hours later, when my son was finally sleeping and we knew he was fine and things were going to be okay, I could feel the gravity of the situation and cry for how grateful I am that things turned out alright.
COLBY: You have mad mom skills. It’s amazing how our body’s take over when we would think that our minds would fail us. You were everything your family needed at that time. Bravo, friend!
JO: Yes! Good job! I remember when my son was about two years old, he was sitting in his high chair eating apple pieces. It was Christmas Eve. All of a sudden he started to choke. I stood up, got my arms in position, and performed the Heimlich as if I had done it a thousand times (actual times=0). In a twist of fate, just that week I had been working on a first aid booklet for the company I wrote for. So it all clicked in. But I was so calm and mechanical and the apple just popped right out. Later though, after we’d had him checked and he was fine, I fell apart.
JEN: It’s amazing how we can just go change modes like that. It’s a good thing, too!
For me, reading about Fern and how she handles Charlie’s death reminded me of myself. At first, she seems just shocked and numb to his death but then it starts to really sink in. As she goes through the motions of her life after he dies, she realizes times when she really misses him. I respond to things after the fact, it’s the days afterwards when I think about how things could have gone differently or how I miss someone who was in my life that are the hardest for me. For me, this book spoke to me because I could recognize how I grieve in Fern’s response to Charlie’s death.
COLBY: For me, reading See You at Harry’s made me think so much about Ralph Fletcher’s Fig Pudding. I feel that See You at Harry’s is taking what Ralph did to the next level of readers. I’m so glad Jo wrote this book.
JO: I really need to read this book! Thank you for the recommendation. When my own brother died, my family was in total shock. None of us knew how to react or respond. It was like all the noise around us was sucked out and we were moving around in this numb silence. It took a long time before the outside noise could filter in again, and when it did, it felt like everyone around me was speaking a different language. My whole perspective on life flipped, and it took a really long time for me to learn how to function in a world that didn’t stop for anyone else, as it had for us. It was so hard to accept that life goes on because we were in such pain and anguish, it felt like it shouldn’t. Or couldn’t. But… it does somehow. Mette Ivie Harrison wrote a blog entry comparing her grief to the grief depicted in the book. It’s a really powerful and insightful reflection: http://metteharrison.livejournal.com/353477.html
JEN: I requested Fig Pudding from my library because you asked me to read it and I agree that there are definitely connections to be made with See You At Harry’s. My favorite quote is when they talk about how people cope with death: “‘Everybody reacts different to something like this – some people cry buckets, other folks store it up inside. When someone you love dies, you get a big bowl of sadness put down in front of you, steaming hot. You can start eating now, or you can let it cool and eat it bit by bit later on. Either way, you end up eating the whole thing. There’s really no way around it.’” p. 107
I also completely agree about being thankful that Jo has written this book. She really takes the big family dynamics to another level and really looks so closely and thoroughly at grief. I am a more sympathetic person because of this book but I also was able to think about how I am in times of crisis or with dealing with grief. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize that we don’t all react in the same way but it’s an important lesson.
Thank you, Jo, for writing this book!
JO: Thanks you two, for having me! It’s been such a treat to listen to you discuss the book. I am so glad, as I’m sure your readers are, that the two of you are out there sharing books with kids. Your students are incredibly lucky to have such thoughtful, caring and sensitive teachers! Thanks for doing what you do!