In 1998, a speeding bus plunged off a cliff in Bolivia and forever altered Linda Lawrence Hunt’s life.
Her daughter, Krista Hunt Ausland, was aboard the bus with her husband, Aaron, and their puppy, Choclo. The couple had come to Bolivia to serve a three-year commitment in community development with the Mennonite Central Committee, a church organization that sends volunteers to work at the grass-roots level around the world.
Krista, 25, died in the crash.
“You never think your child will go before you,” Hunt said. “It was devastating.”
Krista’s death launched Hunt on a journey through the searing anguish, dark days, long nights and unexpected grace of grief.
The result of that journey is Hunt’s latest book, “Pilgrimage Though Loss: Pathways to Strength and Renewal After the Death of a Child.”
Hunt, also the author of “Bold Spirit: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America,” will read from the book and sign copies on Saturday at Auntie’s Bookstore.
As she looked for ways to cope with her loss, she said she found lots of books on immediate, acute grief. “But what I was looking for was the long term – how do I incorporate sorrow and love together in a way that honors our child?”
In addition, Hunt said she resented being told, “Everything changes when a child dies.” There was much in her life she didn’t want to change – her loving relationship with her husband, Jim Hunt; her enjoyable work as a college professor; and the faith that gave her life meaning.
She began to talk with other parents who’d lost a child. She asked, “What were the gestures that others did for you or that you did for yourself that helped strengthen you?” And “Pilgrimage Through Loss” was born.
The book blends Hunt’s story, the stories of the 30 parents she interviewed and the latest research on grief and bereavement.
Hunt cautions, “This book isn’t meant to be prescriptive on how to survive loss.” Instead, she hopes readers will feel less alone on their journey. “If they trust their journey and are intentional in it, they can emerge in a strong, vibrant place while still honoring their child.”
Her hope is that when readers discover what has worked for other parents, they will be able to find what works for them.
Though everyone’s journey is unique, Hunt found several commonalities in the grieving parents she interviewed. Most strikingly, they shared a longing to hear their child’s name spoken.
She writes, “However to the dismay of many bereaved parents, after a brief time many people rarely want to talk about the dead child in fear this will be too upsetting. These silences add another layer of pain.”
Hunt includes stories of parents who lost children before birth as well as those of parents whose children died as adults. “Love for a child never ends,” she writes.
Another commonality she discovered is that often the death of a child eventually spurs parents onto new creative endeavors.
“We’ve got to do something in memory of Krista besides cry,” said Jim Hunt.
So, in 1999, the Hunts launched the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship, which provides mentoring support and service and leadership development grants for young adults who are engaged in a sustained period of voluntary or vocational service as an expression of their Christian faith and values.
Other organizations like The Susie Forest and Etta’s Projects stemmed from the loss of a child. But creativity isn’t limited to nonprofit foundations. One mother started baking and selling cookies to fund cancer research, a dad built a basketball court at a Boys and Girls Club, others turned to painting, music or writing.
As Hunt researched and wrote, she developed a profound distaste for the word “closure.” She said, “Closure implies an ending but parents don’t want a death to be the end of their story.”
Furthermore she found closure is often a term other people use to express an expectation that there’s some kind of deadline or ending to grief.
“People who are grieving don’t need that burden put on them,” she said.
While “Pilgrimage Through Loss” speaks to parents who’ve lost a child, Hunt believes the book also offers hope for anyone who has lost someone they deeply loved.
“Underneath all deep loss, there is a wellspring of love. If only we can tap into that, it can energize us to live life today and in the future,” she said. “Sorrow doesn’t have to be crippling forever.”