4.4.2 Enduring and Growing after Personal Tragedy and Trauma

In some cases, an individual will have had a future story which was positive but circumstances then ensured it could not come to fruition: a future story may be “lost, stolen, abused, or distorted by a developmental snag, a traumatic event, or any combination of life forces” (Lester 44). If the individual is to find a positive way forward, they will need to adapt their future story or create a new one. One of the cases Lester discusses involves a woman whose "core narrative, the central drama of her personal identity, included the specific future story of having her own biological child" (46). Unfortunately, this narrative had failed to come to pass and so, in this context, the story had become "dysfunctional because it contributes to despair rather than hope” (48). A secondary character in Janice Gray’s Lullaby of Leaves (1969) has had her future story closed down in a similar way. Rosemary was pregnant when the car she was travelling in crashed, and when she "recovered consciousness they told me my baby was dead. And that I could never have another" (82). She is "extremely unhappy" (84) but is opposed to adoption because "I couldn't let some other child take my baby's place" (82). However, meeting and getting to know some children in need of adoption seems to allow her to put aside this interpretation of adoption: by the end of the novel she has learned "the joy that could come through the warm and loving hearts of children who needed her as much as she need them" (187) and is ready to adopt.

Since Rosemary is a secondary character, little detail is given about the process by which she relinquishes her now-impossible future story but it certainly appears that the interactions with the children are sustaining to her, enabling her

to endure and to transcend a circumstance in which restoration to [her] former condition [...] is [...] impossible. [...] But it goes beyond mere resignation to affirmation as it attempts to achieve spiritual growth through endurance of unwanted or harmful or dangerous experiences. (Clebsch and Jaekle 8-9)

In order to move beyond "mere resignation" to "affirmation," such attempts "to achieve spiritual growth through endurance of unwanted or harmful or dangerous experiences" must inevitably seek out some byproduct of the "harmful or dangerous experiences" which can be considered positive. Rosemary's loss of her child in a car accident, for example, creates a situation in which she is able to become a substitute mother to children whose situation is a mirror-image of her own: their "father was killed in a car crash and their mother was terribly injured" (17) and died in hospital. Out of these two tragedies, then, there arises an opportunity to find an unexpected "joy."

The Anglican priest hero in Kate Hewitt’s A Vicarage Christmas (2017) makes a more general argument that “it’s only when we’ve been broken that we can truly know what it means to be healed and whole.” Here, a negative experience is recast as a route to a deeper understanding and appreciation of positive elements of life or, put in Clebsch and Jaekle's terms, "spiritual growth." Various characters in Nadine Mutas’s To Enthrall the Demon Lord (2017) also attempt to find a sustaining way to understand suffering. The heroine, Maeve, has endured torture which left her mentally and physically scarred. However, one of the secondary characters states that "there's always two ways you can look at something" and the suggestion that there are alternative ways to interpret situations is echoed by Maeve's therapist, who encourages her to think of herself as a "survivor" rather than a "victim": "A shift in perspective, a seemingly simple change of vocabulary, yet it turned the tables in her head. That word gave her courage, strength, and a budding sense of pride."

This "shift in perspective," from the traumatised victim to the survivor who has found a new narrative to sustain herself, is given first metaphorical and then physical form. As the novel opens, Maeve has spent months recuperating and is "sick and tired of pity, of being coddled and treated like a cracked vase that could shatter at the slightest vibration." This view of her is not sustaining: it keeps her feeling "Broken. Weak. Disfigured." Her hero, however, sees in her scars "a stark proclamation of beauty inherent in strength and survival" and so an alternative, sustaining, way of interpreting the evidence of Maeve's torture is given physical form in the kintsugi bowl he gives her:

"Kintsugi, [...] is a Japanese craft of mending fractured objects by gluing the broken pieces together using a golden lacquer. In this philosophy, breakage and repair are part of the history of an object, and instead of disguising the fracture points, they are highlighted and embraced as a form of beauty. If something breaks, it does not lose its value or appeal. [...] When our bodies break," he added gently, "we heal, and we often realize we are stronger at the mended points."

Melissa F. Zeiger has found a similar treatment of scarring in the

huge body of romance novels whose heroines are recovering from [cancer] treatment [which] began to emerge in the mid-1990s and continues into the present. Usually in breast cancer romances, the heroine has lost a breast (and sometimes hair) to cancer, feels unattractive in her altered body, and fears she will never be loved or desired again. (108)

Zeiger highlights the fact that, despite society’s “strange insistence that breast cancer patients look ‘normal’—that is, unchanged, during and after treatment—and aspire to beauty and symmetry [...]; women with cancer who lose breasts and/or hair are punished for their fall from femininity” (111), the breast cancer romances take a very different approach. In these novels the heroine’s

wound does not imply castration [...]; on the contrary, she is sexually empowered and, as she recovers from her ordeal, strengthened in other ways as well. Impairment becomes conducive to, rather than preventing, sexual intensity because the [...] recovery produces trust and intimacy. (111)