In 'Once More We Saw Stars,' Grief And Love Together Jayson Greene's young daughter died in a tragic random accident; his new memoir chronicles how he and his wife got to a place where they understood they could still experience joy.
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In 'Once More We Saw Stars,' Grief And Love Together

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In 'Once More We Saw Stars,' Grief And Love Together

In 'Once More We Saw Stars,' Grief And Love Together

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Four years ago, the unthinkable happened to Jayson Greene. His 2-year-old daughter Greta was visiting her grandmother. The two were sitting on a bench on New York's Upper West Side when a brick came loose from a building and struck Greta in the head. She died three days later. Greene began keeping a journal. It turned into a memoir, "Once More We Saw Stars," which has just been published. NPR's Lynn Neary visited the Greenes at their home in Brooklyn.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: On first meeting Jayson and Stacy Greene, you'd be hard-pressed to see any sign of the tragedy that struck out of the blue four years ago. They are warm and welcoming, quick to smile and laugh. They seem very close, picking up easily on each other's cues. And they dote on their son Harrison.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

JAYSON GREENE: Come in.

NEARY: Jayson greets him as he arrives home from day care with his mother.

J. GREENE: Come on in.

STACY GREENE: Hey.

J. GREENE: Hey, Monkey Butt.

S. GREENE: Can you say hi, Dada (ph)?

J. GREENE: You want to take your shoes off down here or upstairs?

HARRISON: Down here.

NEARY: It would have been impossible for Jayson to imagine such a scene in the days and weeks following Greta's death. And the Greenes did not get to this point easily. Back then, Jayson remembers, he had only one recurring thought.

J. GREENE: I was saying it out loud over and over again 'cause it was the only thought that I was capable of having - why don't I just die? It was as if my heart was beating and I was trying to will it to stop. I didn't want to have to do anything to make that happen. And I didn't want to leave my wife or my family necessarily. But I was very, very clear that what I wanted was for all thoughts and feelings and sensations to just stop.

NEARY: Jayson says they had to come to terms not only with Greta's death but with the way she died, an accident so random that it almost seemed malevolent. Jayson, an optimist by nature, says it brought out an anger in him that he didn't know existed.

J. GREENE: There was such rage in me that bubbled up instinctively. And it was my worldview confronting the randomness of the accident. And the idea that I might be so grievously angry that it would follow me around everywhere and that I'd want to scream and punch things struck me as monstrous. I was horrified that that was something that was inside of me.

NEARY: Not long after Greta died, Jayson had to get out of the house. He went for a run. And as he entered a nearby park, something happened that, even now, he can't really explain. He saw Greta.

J. GREENE: She stepped out from behind a tree. And I was deeply aware that no one else could see her but me. But yet, I ran over to her because it was so overwhelmingly real. And I picked her up. And she told me to go for my run. And so I ran to the park, and tears were just coming down my face. And I got to the edge of the park. And that's where I wrote down this sentence: there will be more light upon this earth for me.

NEARY: Jayson says he and his wife Stacy faced a grief so profound that they came to see a kind of beauty in it. They found themselves traveling down a spiritual path. They weren't religious. But Stacy says they were searching for answers, and they wanted to find a way to connect with Greta.

S. GREENE: Any religion, any spiritual practice that brought with it some sense of connection, we were open to. But we were also skeptical. And...

J. GREENE: Yeah.

S. GREENE: There's also - I think in some of the grief work that we've done, a lot gets talked about your heart. So it gets broken, and then it gets more open. You are kind of forced to change. But in that, you're more open to things that you wouldn't have been open to before.

NEARY: The process of opening themselves up also allowed them to see a possible future that would include another child.

HARRISON: The triceratops.

J. GREENE: (Laughter) What's next?

HARRISON: T. rex.

J. GREENE: With a powerful...

HARRISON: Powerful.

J. GREENE: ...Jaw.

HARRISON: Jaw.

NEARY: Stacy says they know they are lucky they were able to have another child. They've met many grieving parents who could not. And they know they have to guard against their own fears and expectations for Harrison.

S. GREENE: He is his own person. We did not replace Greta. We had another child, and I think that was something that we really talked about, like just making sure that we weren't putting some burden on him to be something for us because that would be unfair to him as a person.

J. GREENE: You want to give that back to Mommy?

NEARY: We're not moving on, says Stacy, leaving Greta behind. But we are choosing to live. And that means moving forward, aware that grief is now a part of life. There is a way, says Jayson, in which grief and love becomes synonymous.

J. GREENE: Grieving her is, in part, a way to express our love for her, as is remembering her joyfully. But we will always have had a daughter here with us on Earth who is not here. And so that will be an absence we contend with for every single day that we are here - until we're not anymore.

NEARY: We will always have two children, says Jayson. And we will always have space for Greta in our lives.

Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF FERNANDO ESPI'S "CAPRICHO ARABE")

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