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The Young Adult Book About Grief That Changed My Entire Perspective on Loss

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Instructions for Dancing,” by Nicola Yoon came out in 2021 after a five-year hiatus (more or less) from the author. As a giant Nicola Yoon fan (“The Sun Is Also a Star” is my favorite book of all time), this was a sad five-year period of my life, so when I saw the announcement for her new book, I was over the moon excited. 

During that time period, I was going through a very intense period of my life where loss controlled me. I had to stay safe mentally, emotionally, and physically and that meant that I was very judicial over what media I engaged with. I stayed away from anything that blatantly had to do with grief, trauma, and loss, because I just couldn’t process or deal with it. “Instructions For Dancing” never mentioned grief, so when reading it, I almost put it down, but I’m so happy I didn’t.

Without spoilers, it’s a story about a girl who gets this power where she can see how relationships end before they do. She falls in love against her better judgment due to her issues with loss and abandonment, and learns how her relationship with this person will end. She has to choose how she’s going to react to this knowledge, and it challenges everything she’s known about love and loss.

Two major lessons I picked up from this book were that:

1. You can’t experience love without loss, and if you don’t want to ever experience loss, you’d have to live a life without love. 

2. It’s not about the ending. It’s about the beginning and middle too.

Love is one of the greatest forces in my life. It’s so important to me, and it’s the one thing that I’ve always wanted. I’ve found it in so many forms (familial, romantic, and platonic), but it was only through those losses that I gained a new fear of love. I loved certain souls more than life itself, and that’s not a euphemism. When I lost those souls, I fell into the deepest pit of suicidality that I’ve ever been in. The idea of opening myself up again was terrifying, not due to my preexisting fear of abandonment or anything of the sort, but instead because what if I lose them too? What if they die? If everything ends, why should I start?

That leads me into the second point. It’s not about the ending, even though that’s usually what gets the most attention. This doesn’t just apply to grief, but all forms of loss. Breakups, transitions, you name it. I’ve experienced loss where I had to question, “Would I do it again?” Before I read this book, I’d only be able to focus on the sharp pain at the end and I never wanted to experience that pain again, but if I didn’t, I’d never love again. That, and all the moments that lit me up I’d miss out on too. There’s a reason I loved them so much, and it’s because of the middle, not the ending. The middle is worth the ending, meaning the love is worth the loss. 

Love and loss are inseparable. The only things universal in life are love and loss, and if you cut yourself off from one, you immediately cut yourself off to another. To some people that may be worth it, but for me it’s not, it wasn’t, and it never will be. Not all middles are worth the endings, but a lot of them are.

I thank “Instructions For Dancing” for this lesson. It’s because of this I got over a major hump in my healing journey, and beyond that I was able to cope with new losses better. I’m able to live and be in the moment more, versus panicking the entire time. Complex-post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) can make that tricky, but for the most part I’m doing a lot better.

Books can be such a huge tool when it comes to moving forward with our lives after traumatic experiences. I highly suggest this book if you struggle with loss, love, and grief. I don’t know who I’d be right now without it. 

Lead image courtesy of contributor

Originally published: July 26, 2022
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