The Unique Power of Grief, Observed

Amanda Held Opelt’s A Hole in the World Gave Me Space to Sit with Death

Sarah Stankorb

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I was a few pages into Amanda Held Opelt’s A Hole in the World when I messaged another writer, recommending it. The same evening, I’d read my friend TaraShea Nesbit’s wrenching piece, for Granta. “Our daughter had been born one month early, unbreathing. My husband and I drove to the last place we were happy,” Nesbit wrote.

Next, just hours later in my copy of A Hole in the World, my eyes passed over Held Opelt describing a visit to a church on Ash Wednesday 2020. This was significant because her sister, Rachel Held Evans wrote her last blog post on Ash Wednesday 2019, before contracting a flu that led to complications, and eventually, Held Evans’s death.

Five days prior to that Ash Wednesday in 2022, Held Opelt had a positive pregnancy test. She was being monitored closely, after a miscarriage the previous December. Levels were too low in her blood tests.

Held Opelt writes how after the Ash Wednesday service — one of the last gatherings she’d attend before 2020 lockdowns — the congregation shuffled out with the customary “Peace be with you.” And also with you.

“We go out into the world wearing on our foreheads what we know in the marrow: we are all going to die,” she writes.

“I start bleeding the next morning.”

So, abruptly, before considering whether Held Opelt’s brand of faith would translate to my friend or whether the echoes of her losses would be too difficult to bear, I texted to recommend the book — because in their rawness on the page I saw kinship.

Because too often, we otherwise hide ourselves away from death.

When my father was alive, I could not avoid the assault of his voice. I spent my childhood afraid of him, but when he broke his hip, and it became clear he and my mother had dementia — whether any of us liked it or were prepared — they became my responsibility.

Any frequency of communication with him tore at me, but as he declined, in order to keep the rest of my life chugging along, I was forced to move my parents close to my own family. Since I moved out at seventeen, I’d kept a widening perimeter of…

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Sarah Stankorb

Sarah Stankorb has published with The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O, and The Atlantic (among others). @sarahstankorb www.sarahstankorb.com