Death is already an unsettling prospect, but when a child dies, it becomes unimaginable.
This is the seemingly insurmountable grief that Jayson Greene explores in his upcoming memoir, Once More We Saw Stars, out May 14, which was excerpted by Vulture last week.
In May 2015, Greene and his wife Stacy’s 2-year-old daughter, Greta, was killed after a piece of windowsill fell on her head from eight stories above. She’d been sitting on a bench with her maternal grandmother in N.Y.C.’s Upper West Side, discussing a kids’ play, Chuggington, they’d seen the night before, the author writes. Greta was fascinated with the character Koko, a talking train car whose friends help her get back on the track after she derails.
” ‘Koko got stuck!’ Greta exclaimed over and over,” Greene writes. “The moment seemed lodged in her brain, my mother-in-law told us later. She was struck by the simplicity of the predicament, the profundity of the call for help.”
It was the last thing his little girl talked about. After the accident, Greta underwent brain surgery, but she never regained consciousness, according to Greene’s 2016 opinion piece in The New York Times.
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In Once More We Saw Stars, Greene recalls the painful hours he and his family sat in the hospital waiting room, bracing for the worst possible news.
“We know Greta is going to die, all of us, although we haven’t allowed the thought into our conscious minds yet,” Greene writes, according to Vulture. “None of us is ready for it to maraud through our subconscious, killing and burning everything it sees. But we hear the banging at the gates. We glance around us, realizing this is the last we’ll ever see of the world as we’ve known it. Whatever comes next will raze everything to the ground.”
After Greta was declared brain-dead, the Greenes were given a private moment to decide if they wanted to donate her organs.
“Stacy and I sit alone. In retrospect, I don’t think either of us had a moment’s doubt,” Greene recalls, per the excerpt. “I am the writer, the overexplainer who strains to shut up so that others can avail themselves of oxygen. But it is Stacy who finds and speaks the words we need: ‘I need it to mean something,’ she tells me. ‘Maybe this way, it won’t be for nothing.’ “
He continues, “I nod. I do not know from what clear water source she is drawing, but I know that she has found her way directly to our truth for both of us.”
Later in the excerpt, Greene writes about running in the park for the first time after Greta’s death. It is there that he senses her spirit, according to Vulture.
“There at the park’s mouth, my heart stirs, and I feel a peculiar elation. I recognize her. Greta is somewhere nearby,” he writes. “I feel her energy, playfully expectant. Come find me, Daddy, she says. Tears spring and run freely down my face. I hear you, baby girl, I whisper. Daddy’s coming to get you.”
In September 2016, Greene and his wife welcomed their second child, son Harrison. The fact that Stacy was pregnant while he was writing made the memoir feel like a kind of “reckoning,” Greene told Publisher’s Weekly last month.
“It became a place of reckoning. How much trauma could I purge and how much could I reckon with before we were tasked with caring for another child?” Greene said. “I wrote it on a countdown clock with the idea that we were going to clear a peaceful space for Harrison when he entered our lives.”
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He continued, “It was unspeakably important to me that our child not be born into a haunted version of the life we gave to Greta or to grow up with a sense that their parents were broken. I loaded every possible metaphysical stake you could pile onto one project. I said, ‘This is going to be the story of me, my wife, my daughter and my unborn son. ‘ ” And so it is.
The excerpt concludes with Greene ending his run. He’s flooded by “a torrent of words.”
“I grope for my phone, blindly choosing the most recent document, a mess of to-dos and grocery lists,” he writes, according to Vulture. “Underneath a reminder to pick up pita and above a confirmation number for a UPS delivery, I write, ‘There will be more light upon this earth for me.’ “
You can read the full excerpt on vulture.com and pre-order Once More We Saw Stars: A Memoir on amazon.com now, ahead of its May 14 release.
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