The Big Idea: TJ Klune
There are emotions we all experience, because we experience other emotions first. In the Big Idea for Under the Whispering Door, author TJ Klune talks about one of those follow-up emotions, and why it’s so important for the novel.
Under the Whispering Door is, at its heart, a book about the power of grief. No two people experience grief the same way. Whether it be because of our beliefs or the circumstances surrounding why we’re grieving, it’s a unique experience that varies from person to person.
And yet, there is still something universal about it. The loss of a loved one, the loss of an opportunity, the loss of a pet or a life not quite lived the way we wanted, we’ve all been through some form of grief. After all, if you live long enough to learn what love is, chances are you’ll know grief too. If you’re reading this, you’ve probably grieved over someone or something. It’s inevitable.
I think a lot about what might happen to us when we close our eyes for the last time. It’s not because I have an unhealthy fascination with the idea of death, but more because it’s one of the great unknowns, a mystery with no firm answers. No one really knows what happens, at least no one living. Is there something more beyond this life? Is there a Heaven? A Hell? Somewhere in between? Are we judged over every little action we made, the good weighed against the bad? Do people who lived in service of others get a better deal than those who didn’t? Or is there nothing at all? Is this the only chance we get to do anything, and once done, there’s nothing else?
I don’t have these answers. At best, I’m a lazy agnostic, but I think I consider myself that because it’s easier than to believe in one thing specifically, only to be proven wrong. I’m not knocking anyone’s beliefs, whether personal or those found through religion, but I often find myself questioning what comes next, and what it all means. I’d like to believe that we continue on, somehow, and that there’s more that awaits us than we can know in life, but I can’t ever really bring myself to commit to it. My faith is filled with questions that I don’t know how to answer.
But I do know grief. I know the power it has to eat away at you until there’s nothing left but an empty husk. Denial: thinking that this can’t be happening, this isn’t real. Anger: the ranting and raving about the unfairness of it all. Bargaining: I’ll change, I swear I’ll change, we can fix this, I’ll be better, I’ll do better. Depression: that old black dog that bites down and chews you up until you’re in shreds. Acceptance: a ludicrous thing that we must get to because it might mean there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
So many stages of grief, and there’s even more than I’ve listed here. These steps aren’t something everyone goes through, and even if they do, it doesn’t mean there’s a specific order. I’ve bounced from acceptance back to denial at the drop of a hat. I’ve stayed in anger for so long, it becomes all I know. I’ve bargained, making dramatic proclamations that if I get what I want, I’ll do whatever it takes to show that I’ve earned it. Depression? Hell yes. I know that one probably better than all the others, like I’m in quicksand and no matter what I do to try and escape, it only makes me sink further.
I lost my father when I was five. My uncle that same day. My grandfather, my grandmother. Friends, family, pets. A partner taken far too soon, leaving behind a ragged hole where he should be, making me laugh and calling me out for my bullshit. I’ve lost people, good people who didn’t deserve to go when they did. I’m not unique in that regard. Everyone has lost someone. Again, grief is different for everyone, but I think we all wonder what we would do if we had more time. What would we say? What would we ask? What would we do if we had one more day, one more hour, one more minute? Would we hold on just a little bit tighter? Would we say everything we’d kept secret?
I don’t know. It feels like a mantra, that: I don’t know. I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know what I’d do if I had just one more moment with those I’ve lost. I don’t know what I’ll do when it becomes my turn to find out. Will I be brave? Perhaps. Will I be scared? Oh, yes, I think I will be. But I’ll have the answers, then. I’ll know.
Under the Whispering Door was never meant to answer the question of what comes next for us after we die. I wrote this book because I was still wrestling with my own grief, and when I’m lost in such a way, I do the only thing I know how to: I write. And through this story, I found a measure of peace. I found my catharsis, and when I finished, I knew I’d done what I set out to do: I found a reason to believe, to have hope, even if I still don’t know what comes after this life.
There are still days when I’m angry, still days when I’m bargaining or caught in a web of depression. But acceptance comes easier now, and even though I wish things could be different, I can’t do anything to change the past. Even if this is all there is, I want to try and leave this world a little better than it was when I came into it. It’s the least I could do for being able to love as I have, even with all I’ve lost.
And maybe that’s the point. To try. To live and love and grieve, but to still try. What more could anyone ask of us?
Read an excerpt (click the “Read Excerpt” link on the page). Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.