Books

Learning from loss

Susan Mihalic and Eileen Wiard read essays from an award-winning anthology

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Inside, we are still children. It doesn’t matter how mature we are in years. We may have put away our toys and moved on to “adulting,” but inside, we are still the children who need help tying our shoes, reaching the top shelf and figuring out what it all means.

That’s why the realization settles over us as our parents pass away and leave us somewhat at a loss and facing our feelings about them as living people, as figures of authority (or not) who are now in our past.

Eileen Kalinowski Wiard and Susan Mihalic will read their contributions to the anthology “These Summer Months: Stories from the Late Orphan Project” (2017, The Backpack Press) Saturday (June 17), beginning at 2 p.m., at Op. Cit. Bookshop, 124 Bent St.

Anne Born, publisher of The Backpack Press, editor of “These Summer Months” and the brainchild behind the Late Orphan Project, will be joining them.

The Late Orphan Project was started following the death of Born’s father in the fall of 2015. “These Summer Months” is the second volume in the project. The first, “These Winter Months,” was published in 2016. Both collections have received critical recognition. “These Winter Months” was named best anthology at the 2016 Great Midwest Book Festival, and “These Summer Months” was a finalist in the “Anthologies: Nonfiction” category of the 2017 International Book Awards. Both volumes feature essays written after the death of a parent. The focus of the essays, Born said, is the intricate and universal workings of family. These include regrets, learning, problem solving, daily life and love.

“Our stories are not about how our parents died — that’s an easy enough story to tell,” she said. “It’s about us now that they are gone.”

In the introduction to “These Summer Months,” Born writes, “What I have found by collecting these very personal, very poignant stories is that the more individual or the more specific the story, the more universal will be the understanding. ‘I get that’ — I hear myself saying that in every case.”

Born is a regular contributor to “The Broad Side.” Her essay on Hillary Clinton’s religious faith was included in “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox” (2015, She Writes Press), which was edited by Joanne Bamberger. Her work has also been published in the Newtown Literary Journal and by Silver Birch Press.

Wiard, a graduate of the Hesychia School of Spiritual Direction in Tucson, Arizona, has just launched her private practice, Eileen Wiard Listening, which helps people to connect with their own higher power, however they define it, in both individual and group spiritual direction sessions. She is a former teacher who came to Taos on a Wurlitzer Foundation writing residency in 2002, fell in love with the high desert and never returned to Boston. Her first work of fiction, “Inside Outsiders” (2013, Nighthawk Press), won the New Mexico Book Association’s 2013 Southwest Book Design and Production Award.

Her essay, “Just This Once,” tells of the first support group meeting she ever attended after the death of her father. The event launched her into healing she didn’t even know she needed. “After my father’s funeral, a friend asked me if I was taking care of myself, and I didn’t have a clue how to answer him. So I started learning how to do just that, believing I was finally free,” she said.

Mihalic holds a journalism degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and, following editorial stints at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in the 1980s and Jostens Learning Corporation in the 1990s, worked as a freelance writer and editor. She has served on the faculty of the Institute of Children’s Literature and the Highlights Foundation workshop at Chautauqua. Her work has been published by Levure littéraire and “The Broad Side.” She is working with her agent to revise her debut novel. “Relative Sorrow,” her essay in “These Summer Months,” is about the impact of her father’s death on her mother’s life and her own, as well as about her mother’s death.

“A friend who’s known me since childhood asked me whether writing this piece was cathartic,” Mihalic said. “The answer is no, but I wasn’t looking for catharsis. I was just looking to tell the story.”

In an email, Mihalic went on to explain her feelings about the essay. “I almost didn’t submit my essay for consideration because I was 5 when my father died. I actively had to remind myself that I was 32 when my mother died. I hadn’t exactly forgotten that, but I didn’t feel like an orphan at 32. The death that left me an orphan was my father’s. After he died, I became my mother’s emotional caretaker, a heavy burden for a 5-year-old. She had a hot temper, and to avoid setting her off, I had to anticipate her needs and read her moods, which made me develop empathy at an early age,“ she wrote.

“I still have empathy for my mother. Her husband had been ill for a couple of years before he died, she was widowed with three kids at 44, and it would be a lot for anyone to cope with. I want to believe she did her best as a parent, but people come up against their limitations all the time. I don’t want to excoriate her. I believe – passionately – that we have a right to tell our stories, even when they’re hard to write or read or hear. Especially then.”

Op. Cit., in the John Dunn Shops, is in the former Moby Dickens Bookshop location. Books will be available at the event for purchase and signing. Copies may also be ordered from TheBackpackPress.com or Amazon.com.

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