From September 11th until October 12th is an emotional time for me filled with heartbreaking and joyous anniversaries.
We all have varied memories from September 11, 2001. Mine was trying to get in touch with my mom from a payphone in a small village in France. When, I wasn’t able to reach her, I wasn’t concerned, knowing she wasn’t in NY or DC. The next day, I learned why I wasn’t able to get in touch with her. On September 11th, my mom was in the hospital for tests. Within a month, she passed away.
When Anna’s Heaven by Stian Hole arrived I knew it would be about death. It was a busy day at the library; so I checked it out, put it in my bag and forgot about it. Last night, I read it. Actually, I read it, reread it, and read it again. Then, I poured over the illustrations. The description of grief… tears, gut wrenching heartbreak, laughing at funny stories about the deceased and smiling at wonderful memories… is the most accurate I’ve read.
“Today there’s someone in the sky sending down nails. That’s not right, is it” Dad says.
“No,” Anna whispers, “but tomorrow there might be strawberries with honey.”
This year on the anniversary of mom’s death, we’re celebrating the joyous occasion I referred to above. ML was born late one afternoon on October 9th. It won’t be raining nails this October 12th. Instead, like the illustration at the end of the book, it will be raining strawberries. ML always requests a big bowl of strawberries to go with her chocolate cake. This year she gets to share them with twenty plus friends.
We won’t read Anna’s Heaven on the day of ML’s party. However, we will read it sometime in October and every year after. From time to time, I picture mom in heaven. Just like Anna’s mom she might be “doing some weeding” or “visiting someone” or “wearing her new dress” or “gone to the library.” She may be shelling butter beans, making her home made rolls, planting flowers at the library, sitting around a table enjoying a good meal with her parents and brother, letting me help her make brownies, reading to me,or looking down and chuckling when ML gets sassy with me.
It doesn’t rain nails like it once did; but there are times it feels like a nail is scraping my heart. Most recently when my brother and his family visited. Watching ML and her cousins run to the doors of Duke Chapel. Then, quietly enter. Seeing them cuddled on our living room floor for their camp out. Knowing mom would have spoiled them, and loved them, and spoiled them some more. There’s no doubt that rainy weekend mom was smiling down on us.
I consider the illustrations in this book exquisite. Others may not be comfortable with them. It’s not your typical pearly gates or starry night sky depiction of heaven. Neither is mine.