Reading Resisting Elegy by Joel Peckham is an intense experience. In an echo of the head-on car collision that killed his wife and eldest son, Peckham’s collection of narratives is a head-on, unflinching confrontation of a type of debilitating pain that I have not yet experienced, but that became all the more real to me as I read his story. Peckham takes his readers on an emotional journey, one that is at once a revelation about grief and suffering, an honest portrait of the author and his recovery process, and a general examination on the condition of the human mind after a trauma.   

If you have a lot of love in your life, you have a lot of loss in your future. For Peckham, this loss came up all too fast when he was in Jordan on a Fulbright teaching scholarship with his Iranian born wife Susan, and their two sons Cyrus and Darius.  A sand truck hit their car as they were driving from Aqaba to Amman, killing Susan and Cyrus. Peckham was left temporarily crippled and suffering from critical neuropathy.

Much as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s On Death and Dying offered a previously unarticulated explanation of the stages of grief, so too does Resisting Elegy confront certain notions of suffering and loss. It is in this way a revelation. Peckham does not tie things up neatly by the end, packaging his suffering into a tidy and inspirational story of recovery. We understand that he will never be “whole” again, but in a way writing Resisting Elegy was Peckham’s way of managing the pain, of taking control over something which he had no control, of studying his reaction to such traumatizing loss almost scientifically, and in so doing gaining some peace.

Throughout the book, what remained most clear to me was Peckham’s own survival instinct during the hellacious aftermath. Seeing him rise up to the concrete challenges of physical therapy, chronic pain, single parenting while also struggling to control unimaginable emotional pain made it impossible not to consider myself in the same situation. I wonder if I, like him, would have fought on, or whether I would have just given up.

Loss is a part of the human condition, and occasionally, a story comes along like Resisting Elegy, which is strangely comforting and inspiring in that it doesn’t try to be either. Because loss is painful, and stories that gloss it over do a disservice to the sufferer. –Nicola