Art Beat: Grief's Country

Mar 18, 2020

Gail Griffin
Credit Kaitlin LaMoine Photography

It was a shocking death. Retired Kalamazoo College professor Gail Griffin quietly maintained a long-distance relationship with her beloved Bob for 18 years. They enjoyed daily phone calls and traveled across the country to spend sabbaticals, vacations, and holidays together. Finally, they were both retired and could get married. But just four months and eight days later, Bob was gone.


Griffin tries to make sense of the heartbreak and loss in her new book, Grief’s Country: A Memoir in Pieces (Wayne State University Press, 2020).

“Shocking is exactly the word that lurks in my mind,” Griffin says. “It was shocking. When I got home, people kept asking, how did it happen? How did it happen? And the last thing I wanted to do was to tell the story of how it happened, but I’m OK with that now. Our little cabin on the Manistee River outside of Fife Lake, Michigan, was about ten feet from the very high bank of the river, much closer than it would have been built today. Bob had bought me a wonderfully elaborate and expensive bird feeder for Christmas that we hung from a tree out over the river. Bob, being Bob, created this rope-and-pulley thing so that he could pull in the bird feeder and take it in at night because the raccoons were always getting at the bird feeders.”

Credit Wayne State University Press

Then, on that shocking night, Bob went out to pull in the feeder and didn't return. After waiting a while, Griffin went out to find her husband, sensing that something was terribly wrong. She found one of his slippers at the edge of the bank. The other was visible far below. There was no autopsy but Griffin says she wonders if a heart attack caused Bob to fall into the river. His body was found several hours later.

That unknowing is only one aspect of the immense grief Griffin moves through in the days, weeks, months, and years that followed. In Grief’s Country, she collects ten essays and four poems to explore the full experience of grief in its many forms.

She writes of her shock and bewilderment, of finding her new role as a widow and how that fits and doesn’t, of the slow process of some kind of healing while maneuvering the discomfort of family holidays, returning to work, and spending vacations alone. The collection is not without moments of humor and the memories of happier times as her relationship with Bob unfolded.

Gail Griffin is the also author of four books of nonfiction, including The Events of October: Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus (Wayne State University Press, 2010). Her award-winning nonfiction and poetry have appeared in The Missouri Review, The Southern Review, Fourth Genre, and The New Ohio Review, as well as in anthologies including Fresh Water: Women Writing on the Great Lakes, which was a "Michigan Notable Book."

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