By Steve Guntli
The loss of a loved one, especially the loss of a child, can leave a person devastated beyond words, but author Linda Hunt has found a way to transform her pain into hope for others.
Hunt, the daughter of late Birch Bay residents Harold and Evelyn Christensen, is the author of “Pilgrimage Through Loss,” a new book that confronts the difficult topic of how to endure the loss of a child, a friend or a family member.
The book was published in February, and Hunt has been on a nationwide tour of speaking engagements to promote it ever since. She will next appear at the Blaine United Church of Christ on Friday, October 10 to read passages from the book and answer questions.
“I really love the community up there, so it was a great chance to come up and reconnect with the area and the people,” she said.
Hunt’s book takes inspiration from a number of painful experiences from her own life. Beginning in the late 1990s, Hunt endured several tragic losses over a four-year period. She and her husband, Jim, would ultimately lose three parents and their daughter, 25-year-old Krista, who was killed in a bus accident in Bolivia in 1998.
Hunt herself is a survivor of two aggressive bouts of cancer, which made her reflect on the loss of her health. But while the book incorporates elements of her own struggle, she also interviewed other grieving families to share their experiences with grief and survival.
During the eight years she spent interviewing subjects while researching her book, Hunt learned that there are a lot of misconceptions about death and grieving that she hoped to shed some light on.
“We live in what sociologists call a ‘mourning avoidant’ culture,” she said. “But we all experience loss, whether it’s a child or a family member or a spouse or one’s own health. No one avoids it, so we need to learn to talk about it.”
To her surprise, Hunt found that she had almost no trouble getting people to open up about the subject, especially parents who’ve lost children.
“When you talk to someone about this, they’ve usually been silent for so long that it still feels fresh for them,” she said. “They all said that they longed to hear their child’s name. Friends and family members think they’re being nice by not talking about it, but if they sense that someone is genuinely interested, they open right up.”
Particularly, people get caught up in what Hunt called “the myth of closure,” an idea that’s grown prevalent over the last few decades that people in mourning need to somehow heal, or move on, after losing a loved one.
“People don’t want to forget their loved ones,” Hunt said. “Instead they need to learn how to integrate their memory into their daily lives.”
Hunt, a former English professor at Whitworth University in Spokane, managed to preserve the memory of her daughter through the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship, a nonprofit group that encourages global leadership in young people. The foundation is now celebrating its 15th anniversary.
She has also kept busy as an author. “Pilgrimage Through Loss” is Hunt’s sixth book. Her first nonfiction book, 2003’s “Bold Spirit,” sold well and went on to win several awards, including the Willa Cather Literary Award and the Washington State Book Award.
Hunt said “Pilgrimage Through Loss” isn’t just about how to endure a loss, but also how to reach out to someone else who has.
“I know a lot about what to say, about what helps and what hurts,” Hunt said. “My hope is that people will have a sense of comfort and courage. I want people to know that they will gain confidence to continue living a full life after suffering a loss.”
Hunt will appear at the Blaine United Church of Christ at 855 4th Street on Friday, October 10 at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free, and books will be available for purchase after the speech for $20.
For more information, visit pilgrimagethroughloss.com.