In 2019, Vicki Malloy’s son Jai died suddenly at the age of 31. This traumatic and unexpected event had a devastating impact on all of his family and friends. For Vicki, reality shifted in a moment’s time, and journaling was one way she felt able to communicate and stay connected with her son. The resulting collection of letters has just been published as a book, Hearts of Light and a Mother’s Vision of Love, which chronicles a grieving mother’s process in accepting her son’s early death. Susie Datko spoke to Vicki in late March to ask more about how the book came about and how she deals with her grief today.
How long did it take you to complete this book?
It took around three years for me to write the book, but I didn’t know I was writing a book. It was innocently unfolding over time as I would sit down and journal to Jai. Stories flowed with ease. I noticed a theme of devotion and surrender emerging, and this led to insights into life and death and the inspiration to express my love in stories and poems. Bringing my pen to paper became an umbilical cord of connectivity to my son. And my insights continue to grow and evolve as time moves forward.
How did writing the book affect your process of grief?
At first, writing helped me look death in the eye and come to terms with it. I couldn’t be afraid of it if I acknowledged it straight on. Writing all the time about Jai’s death made me comfortable to feel it, no matter how painful, and be able to speak about it, which is important to do.
Then having my feelings of love and loss and everything in between published and bound in a book has given me a perspective of looking back at my years of heavy grieving with a more expansive outlook. There’s a witnessing quality of looking at myself and what I was going through at the onset of my son’s death.
I’m no longer in that heavy grief stage. I feel a degree removed from the person I was during those earlier years to who I am today. I will always grieve my son, but I can now manage it alongside an increasing amount of happiness.
Did you ever feel like giving up? What made you persevere?
There were days that I just wanted to crawl into a corner and disappear. I was absolutely distraught. I lost my baby, my boy, my best friend. We had a strong bond of love and compatibility. To lose a love like that is devastating.
I knew I needed to keep going for my daughter. My love for her is just as special as it is for my son. She was shattered from this tragic event. Her reality shifted dramatically in a moment’s time, too. I wanted to make sure I could help cushion some of the weight she was carrying around. That is what mothers do. We spent more time together and would talk as much as we could about our feelings, so we could support and comfort one another.
What can you tell a person who’s recently lost someone?
There are many things about grief I can share, but the main thing is to allow yourself the time and space to grieve. Don’t deny yourself that. Surround yourself with people that love you. Follow your spiritual and religious practices. Create a balance. I did it with exercise, rest, meditation, eating a good diet, spending time with my husband and daughter, finding funny and light entertainment, listening to music I love. Get creative.
There is no timeline for how long to grieve, but be careful you don’t fall into the bottomless pit of grief or negative emotions like anger, blame, and self-pity. It takes time to navigate through the grieving process.
What was your transformative process as you were writing?
I believe love is at the core of all life and there is a grace that accompanies it. My love for my child is so deep. When I would write my feelings to Jai, I started to notice that there was a profound feeling of increasing devotion that was developing. All the love in my being was getting enlivened and was moving me into a place of peace and comfort. I felt my awareness probing deeply into the mechanics of love, grief, and devotion—devotion to his memory and needing to honor that, and the need to surrender to my new reality. It’s been a painful way to grow, but it’s my way. I feel stronger from it. It has changed me.
How do you think your book can help people who are suffering a loss?
I think my insights and perspective can give people another way of looking at life and death and give them “food for thought.” My perspective is a way to view death, grief, and love through my lens of experience.
If someone is feeling isolated in their grief, perhaps this book will help them realize they are not alone. This emotion is not unique to any one person, but rather it’s a universal component of the human experience and can be a great unifier in the spirit of love and understanding. I feel it shows how a truly traumatic experience can be a powerful catalyst for one’s awakening.
We are on this planet to share ourselves with one another. I certainly don’t have all the answers. This is my small offering to humanity.
Any final words?
From my years of writing to Jai, I have noticed a beautiful tapestry has been woven together with all the parts stitching together a greater whole that I hadn’t been aware of before. These writings have become a memoir of our life, along with the other people on our path and the roles they played. It’s a story of love.
Grieving with Grace is available on Amazon, at Revelations Book Cafe in Fairfield, and Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City.