Devastation, Yet Beauty, in Jayson Greene’s “Once More We Saw Stars”
If a book’s quality is measured in tears, “Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir” is going to rake in the awards. Jayson Greene’s debut tenderly illustrates the connection between father and child, and offers an honest example of the tidal wave of grief that follows the loss of a child. It’s a perfect summer read for anyone who has navigated or will navigate the powerful emotions that arise from loss (so, basically everyone).
Jayson and his wife, Stacy, needed a break from the exhausting churn of parenting their inquisitive and adventurous two-year-old, Greta. Stacy’s mother, Susan, regularly babysat Greta so Jayson and Stacy could maintain their sanity as new parents. Greta and Susan were enjoying a chat on a bench in an Upper West Side neighbourhood of Manhattan when the unthinkable happened—a brick on a windowsill overhead crumbled and fell on them, injuring Susan and fatally wounding Greta.
The memoir opens with a flashback to the last moments Jayson has with Greta before dropping her off for a weekend with Susan, and then quickly shifts to a detailed play-by-play recounting of the heart-wrenching moments at the hospital. The following five sections of the memoir each capture a different phase of the healing process that unfolds for Stacy and Jayson. While mostly chronological, Greene seamlessly leverages flashbacks of early memories with Stacy and then Greta after her arrival.
Greene is a gifted writer. He has a knack for including meticulous details (“I order a steam-flattened egg-and-cheese croissant and a cup of weak, bitter coffee with a red plastic stirrer.”) in a way that makes you feel like you were there with him in the moment but never bogs you down as a reader. Additionally, he found the right balance between honesty and oversharing, and often shared the experiences he had alongside others (like Stacy and Susan), but refuses to guess or project what their experiences are. There are a few medically graphic lines that could be triggering, but Greene manages to share without being gratuitous or gory.
He also does an excellent job of normalizing any and all activities one might pursue while searching for answers and healing from a loss at this scale. Activities included staying connected to loved ones, participating in group therapy, daily yoga, getting matching tattoos with each other, shouting into dead-end alleys, punching pillows, consulting with a medium, and participating in alternative spiritual rituals like a tobacco prayer-tying ceremony.
“Once More We Saw Stars” provides guideposts for a healing journey
Additionally, Greene does a wonderful job introducing key concepts and quotable lines that would serve anyone on a healing journey. “We are about to enter the unimaginable, but we are also going to pass through,” he insists. And this: “This is going to feel like it is going to kill me. […] But all I have to do is step into it, right now. And then I will not die.” In a world where numbing the pain is a societal norm, it was helpful to see someone struggle, question their process, and yet consistently show up to learn and grow through the pain.
With equal doses of clarity, honesty, pain, and joy, Greene is able to capture all the realities of love and loss. “Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir” is an unforgettable memoir that offers hope for healing to all of us.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.