BOOK REVIEW: Colors Of Goodbye

I remember the feeling of the moment I realized that I should bury my parents. I don’t know where I was or how old I was, but it was a revelation to me that every generation of humans must see the death of the generation before them. That this is the way of the world. And that, in fact, the only thing more tragic than death is death that defies this order. I have known family and friends who had to endure the death of their children. It is an evil, angry wound; the kind of why-not-me pain that conquers even the most stoic hearts.

Such is the subject of September Vaudrey’s book Colors Of Goodbye: A Memoir Of Holding On, Letting Go, and Reclaiming Joy In the Wake Of Loss. On May 31, 2008, September’s daughter Katie was 19 years old and full of life, driving to her first day of a summer job. By the end of that week, she would be gone: buried, mourned, and forever missing from family game nights and photo albums.

I have never cried more with a book. It is not an exaggeration to say that every chapter brought tears. September is a gifted writer, with an incredible ability to remember the details of her ordeal and use them in poignant, personal ways. I mourned for Katie, whom I never met. I grieved for September and her family. And I gushed gratitude to God for the blessing of my own healthy children whom I consistently take for granted.

Colors of Goodbye is 280 pages long. September begins her story on the day of Katie’s death. Her daughter is alive on Page 5. On Page 6, September gets a call from Kane County Hospital. The rest of the book is about the agonizing process of her daughter’s death and her family’s life thereafter. It is a difficult road to walk. September and her husband Scott have five children ranging from adulthood to middle school. Each of their stories is unique and touching.

If you’ve lost someone too soon or know someone who has, Colors Of Goodbye will invite you to mourn deeply, honestly, slowly, and hopefully. If you long for comfort, someone with wounds of their own that might help them understand yours, this book can help.

I got to meet September this summer at a writers’ workshop in Salt Lake City. She said the first draft of her book weighed in with more than 125,000 words. That would have made it more than 350 pages long. At 280, it’s still a long and wearying journey. And it’s in that way that the memoir matches the memory. Colors Of Goodbye could be shorter. But the reader encounters an ambivalent feeling of growing dread. I wanted to finish the book but I didn’t want it to be over. I wanted to skip some of the funeral-planning details; at the same time I felt that skipping any detail would diminish Katie’s memory, as if the only thing more ignoble than the heartache would be escaping the heartache. While I am sure I have no idea how September feels, she did manage to deliver that aspect of her grief.

As a memoir of mourning, Colors Of Goodbye cannot, obviously, have a happy ending. But it does have a hopeful one. September cherishes memories and struggles honestly with doubt, anger, and remorse. Her strength shines through in her pages and, I can attest, in her person. This summer's writers conference was very small, which gave attendees lots of chances to connect. September was never without a genuine smile and a warm word for her new friends. After one of the evening outings where conference attendees went to dinner together, I found myself riding home with September and two other writers. She shared a story that didn’t make it into the book — one that had us all weeping as we pulled into the conference parking lot. We all got out and hugged September, and it is that moment that encapsulates this book for me: September, standing on a curb with three relative strangers, having just shared a deeply hurtful part of her story, tearful but composed, eyes red but clear, smiling.