Two-year-old Greta Greene is sitting chatting with her grandmother on a park bench in New York City when a brick crumbles from a windowsill overhead and strikes her unconscious. After she dies from her injuries, her father Jayson and mother Stacy begin an excruciating journey that is as much about hope and healing as it is about grief and loss. While undoubtedly hard to read in places, this courageous, intimate and exceptionally written memoir is also profoundly inspiring in showing how loss can have the potential to change us for the better.
Far from gratuitous misery for its own sake, Greene’s first book draws universal understanding from particular circumstances. He grounds his memoir in the many small absurdities of living with grief that keep his writing nimble; insensitive social workers, the relief of exercise, talking intimately with utter strangers in a support group, still having to answer his emails. Greene’s grief is a response to the worst kind of loss, but he does not “pull rank”. Anyone who has lost someone can find themselves in here. I was struck when Greene wrote that he became adept at finding places to scream in an overpopulated city where privacy is largely notional outside one’s own home. ( “There are eight million people in this city - what are the odds I might find a corner of it to howl like a man being stabbed without being heard by a single one of them?”) In his most accomplished moments, Greene peels the skin right back on painfully intimate truths, and lets the air at something visceral in a way that many writers on death fail to do. The result is a grief memoir of rare and perhaps even unflattering honesty that gives meaningful context to living with loss and surviving something that seems impossible until it happens.
The story is almost unbearable. Yet Greene’s account of his loss is remarkably uplifting. It’s hard-won proof that love can survive our worst fears and our darkest, most desperate emotions.
There is page after page of beautifully wrought pain, anger and loss. It comes at the reader at heart-thumping velocity that is at once bewildering and extraordinary... At times, particularly in the two chapters detailing the fatal accident and its aftermath, the prose is strung-out and pinprick-raw... Despite, or perhaps because of its sorrowful subject matter, Once More We Saw Stars is ultimately a life-affirming achievement. It is a brave, eloquent and masculine exploration of grief that also celebrates the generosity of family and friends and, above all, love.