Alfred A. Knopf, 2013
On December 26, 2004, Deraniyagala lost her two sons, husband, and both parents to the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka, claiming close to 275,000 people. It is an unfathomable loss that a person endures only because he or she does not stop breathing while days and nights keep rotating.
The reciting of events begins minutes before the destroying wave and continues to June 2012. The small book of 228 pages is uncomfortable to read though its tone is the expected flat, somewhat emotionless telling that marks true trauma. Emotionless is not without deep pain. It is so straightforward that I was struck with the writing’s simplicity that targets thoughts or emotions many writers dance around or try to make acceptable with fancy words. The one word title of Wave underlines the writing style.
She tells the story as though she was under oath and trying to finish before the judge’s lunch time. There is no relief in the story, giving few glimpses into details of intruding current life. All of it is a focus on her struggle to accept the reality, memories, and inner life. There is little personal history and we are not told how she made the new friends who appear, how she returned to her career, or very many details of what it is. What the reader does receive is stark reporting with searing, short, staccato sentences like, “I can’t live without them. I can’t. Can’t.”
It took four years before she returned to the family’s London house they had left to visit Sri Lanka for the fateful holiday. It was at this point that she seemed for the first time to experience a measure of comfort in recalling the past and walking through its memories. Yet even as she is feeling a lightness among her family’s possessions, she admits her fears of allowing happiness. People who have grieved deeply will recognize that the first feeling of true happiness can feel as a betrayal to the loved one’s memory that is quickly followed by a rise of shame that something was wrong with her which is why this tragedy happened.
What is there to learn here? Nothing we want to learn or experience firsthand. But if a person is in deep grief over someone’s death and needs a fellow traveler or is interested in knowing more about the effects of deep trauma, it is a little gold mine.
What did she learn through her years of intense suffering? I’m sure she could write another book about that, but her last pages summed up one thing grievers learn. As the cocoon of shock and initial trauma wears away, we are left to face how we are changed, with the inevitability and responsibility of continuing life.