‘PREACH, sister. PREACH!’, I say in my head, as I listen to Rachael Chadwick, author of 60 Postcards, describe the taboo of living through grief today as a ‘secret society’. Chadwick looked every bit the stylish, professional London late-twenties-early-thirty-something. How unlike everyone she was. I know something of this society and am acutely familiar with her descriptions, as though she is Roberta Flack-style singing my life with her words. I, too, am an unfortunate member of this secret society, having lost my father to lung cancer when I was 24 and, most recently, my mother to breast cancer at 28. I am about to turn 30 and have lived my entire adult life with the burning sting of grief.
So, there I stood, in R.M. Williams’ achingly cool Shoreditch boutique, attempting to maintain my composed face among the gathering of Ladies in London professional women. We listened, all equally captivated, by a young woman who had managed to separate her grief from her identity, starting a global movement.
60 Postcards is a tribute to Rachael’s mum after losing her to cancer just 16 days from diagnosis. To mark her mum’s 60th birthday, Rachael traveled to Paris with 11 friends to leave 60 postcards around the city. Anyone who found one would discover the reason for her visit and an email address to get in touch. Once the responses started rolling in, she created a blog to further connect with people who related to her grief and wanted to share in her positive and powerful mission.
For Rachael, landing a book deal based on her blog opened up more opportunities to talk about her mother and about grief in general. The trip that started as a way to honour her mum became a catalyst to forge human connections and crush the taboo of death and dealing with loss in our highly curated social society.
To actively avoid and ignore death is perhaps the greatest human folly. We know it exists yet construct our lives to forget about it. No one thinks loss will come to their door. No one believes they can cope with the unfathomable separation of worlds between themselves and a loved one. No one knows what to say or do or think. That is, of course, until it does. And they are forced to cope. And they still realise don’t know.
For me, my grief has come in waves. Powerful, storming and all-consuming, it can derail even the most rehearsed “I’m doing fine”. Steady and lapping, they can bring glorious memories to the surface; so vivid, you feel as though you’re watching a favourite old movie where you know all the lines by heart.
By allowing us to walk in her shoes, she gives hope to those, like myself, who maybe cannot find the words. In doing so, the book becomes simultaneously elegy and celebration; the trip Rachael and her mother couldn’t take becomes one which they do, allowing the reader to be a participant in that catharsis.
The hard truth of life is that we will all deal with loss and grief in our own personal way when it comes. For some, that will be intensely private and for others, perhaps, more public. But the triumph of Rachael Chadwick and her 60 postcards is that it makes the experience of those in this unchosen society a little less secret and lets the yet uninitiated know that they’re not alone.