Author turns grief into compelling book

By Kyle Kernan - ReminderNews
Windsor Locks - posted Thu., Jan. 26, 2012
Author Laura B. Hayden recently spoke about her book at the Windsor Locks Public Library. Photo by Kyle Kernan.
Author Laura B. Hayden recently spoke about her book at the Windsor Locks Public Library. Photo by Kyle Kernan.

The Windsor Locks Public Library hosted writer and teacher Laura B. Hayden on Jan. 24. Hayden read and discussed her memoir, “Staying Alive: A Love Story.” The memoir is a series of essays that chronicle her grieving process and her search for meaning after losing her husband 13 years ago.

Her husband, Larry, died at 49, when a blood clot dislodged from his lower leg where an artery had been removed during the process of by-pass surgery.

Hayden said she took time to focus on the needs of her children - Conor, who was 13, and Emily, who was 11 - and to help them through the wake, funeral and their eventual return to school.

About 10 years after her husband’s death, she felt compelled to turn her reflections and experiences of grief into prose; at the same time she enrolled in an MFA program at Western Connecticut State University.

“I had to write about my husband before anything else; I had to make him present,” Hayden said.

Hayden began the night reading “Losing,” as she recounts spotting a procession of dolphins along California’s Canyon Hills Highway with her late husband. The dolphins were pushing a departed calf. She wrote that dolphins spend two to three days mourning their dead before abandoning them.

In the story, Hayden wrote, “Four months later, Emily, Conor and I escorted our Larry to his grave.”

In her memoir, Hayden relives many poignant moments, but she balances them with humor.

She recalled how Conor, at age 13, possessed the same dry but sarcastic humor as his father, and was becoming like him. To illustrate their repartee, she wrote about the time that Conor asked his father who his favorite painter was, and he said “Sherman Williams,” to which Conor replied his favorite to be Claude Monet, whose works he had never seen.

“It’s interesting what you find from examining life,” said Hayden, who added that, “writing the memoir was like excavating, Writers are forced to write by their inner psyches,” she said.

Conor, now in his 20s, is writing a sports blog, the tone and opinions of which are “eerily similar” to the opinions of her late husband, she said.

According to Hayden, grief can’t be absolutely defined by the 1967 Kubler Ross model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Hayden believes that the emotions one faces in grief are more fluctuating and are unique to the individual’s circumstance.

“She shows the reader that the grieving process can’t be pigeon-holed and that everyone deals with grief differently,” said Lori Cerone, a professor of Nursing at Capital Community College, who attended the event.

“Hayden articulates that there is never closure through grief, there is only really acceptance,” said Mary Balantic, another guest at the event who deals with grief at Hartford Hospital.

“This is all new to me,” said Hayden. Originally she intended her memoir to be her thesis for her MFA program, but she received much interest and praise from its sharp round-about humor and poignantly-rendered illustrations of her past.

Alexis Fedorjaczenko, who studied with Hayden at Western, has enjoyed seeing her grow as a writer and has benefited from her experience. “I’ve seen her development. She’s done a terrific job finding answers for herself, she’s written a fabulous book, which relates that battling grief is a constant process, and she balances the different emotions so well,” said Fedorjaczenko.

Fedorjaczenko, who also works in the lieutenant governor’s office of Health Reform and Innovation, said she would be reading Hayden’s book during down time at work and would erupt in laughter at one moment and start to cry the next.

Hayden said that Signalman Publishing in Kissimmee, Fla., who agreed to publish the book, after she received “complimentary” rejection letters by bigger publishers.

“I hope readers will experience the joy in our lives as well as the sadness. On a cultural level, I hope from my book they will understand how complex grief is,” Hayden said. She added that the book can be a tool for support groups or people who suffer from a great loss.

David Holub, also a fellow student at Western, said, “Laura’s writing is not self-indulgent, it’s something bigger than her own stories.”

The book is also available on, Amazon Kindle or and on her website,  Hayden is giving another reading on Tuesday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m., at the Holy Family Church Women's Guild, 23 Simon Road in Enfield.

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