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'Normal Broken' Author Shares Insights from Her ‘Unimaginable’ Grief

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If you’ve seen the musical “Hamilton,” you know the heartbreaking scenes and music that deal with the loss of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton’s son. For the wife of the recent Broadway star of the show, the heartbreak of child loss was real.

Kelly Cervantes, wife of “Hamilton” actor Miguel Cervantes, has dedicated her new book “Normal Broken” to her daughter Adelaide, who died just shy of her fourth birthday after a brief life coping with a rare form of a debilitating epilepsy.

Cervantes says she created the book not to be a step-by-step grief guide but more of that kind of ideal companion. “I found what I wanted most in my grief was just someone who would sit there and hold my hand and sit in the dark places with me and then pull me out of it with a joke or a laugh,” Cervantes shared with Tulip Cremation about her grief journey. She says the book is for those experiencing any kind of loss, not just the grief of child loss.

Feeling Normal in Brokenness

The book’s title was inspired by a grief retreat Cervantes attended with other mothers who had lost children. “What I realized is that I felt so incredibly broken in my typical circles. I didn’t fit in the epilepsy and disability community that had been my home because I no longer had a daughter with those titles. I didn’t feel like I even fit in with my own family because my husband and I were grieving so differently,” she said. Cervantes found healing with these other moms who understood what she’d been through. "I felt normal in my brokenness. They understood, they saw me, no one asked me if I was OK, they just handed me a tissue and held my hand.”

Grief a ‘Deranged Chicken Dance’

Cervantes wants to normalize the grief process and help people understand that it is not a linear thing that can be solved by any “how-to,” self-help guide. “It (grief) is a deranged chicken dance,” she explained. “Someone is going to have a good day and then they are going to have two bad days. And it is unpredictable, and it is weird, and it sucks, and all of that is OK and completely normal. Grief is so normal. It makes everyone around us uncomfortable, so we end up trying to hide it away instead of just allowing it to be part of our lives and growing with us.”

The book grew out of her blog, “Inchstones,” which she launched during her daughter’s illness. Cervantes says she found writing to be therapeutic. She also credits connecting with others and prescribed medications for helping her through these often-difficult years.

The Awkwardness of Child Loss

Cervantes says child loss can be awkward for others and she wishes people would have fewer assumptions about grief and grievers. The author explained, “I wish people understood that there’s nothing they could say that would make it better and to take some of the pressure off themselves. No simple line, trope or ’at least’ statement will make it better. They don’t need to assume the person wants to feel better. So many assumptions are made. Most people just want someone who is going to sit with them in that uncomfortableness.”

Cervantes fondly remembers a conversation with someone who did just that. “She didn’t ask how she died, she didn’t ask me how I was doing, she said she was so sorry, and she asked me what Adelaide was like. That to me was just the most beautiful response that someone could offer. Because we all miss our loved ones that have passed.”

She says that because of a perceived hierarchy of grief, there’s an environment where people often don’t know what to say to parents. “At some point, someone decided that there was a hierarchy for grief and that child loss was the Holy Grail of competitive grief. And I just find that to be b.s. I think that loss is loss is loss is loss and we get nowhere by competing or ranking which grief is more. It is like child loss is so ‘unimaginable,’ to borrow from “Hamilton,” people don’t want to think about it, talk about it, they don’t want to touch it.” In fact, the subject of child loss made it difficult at first for Cervantes to find a publisher. But she prevailed and is now on a nationwide book tour.

Now her hope is that her book is a comfort for those who are grieving. “I hope they find connection. I hope they feel a little more normal in their grief, a little more normal in their brokenness. I hope that they laugh a little bit. And that they are relieved of some of the guilt and heavier feelings that can come along with grief and just come to a place where maybe they are ready to heal, too.”

Kelly Cervantes is an award-winning writer, speaker, and advocate best known for her blog Inchstones, where she shared the stress, love, and joy that came with parenting her medically complex daughter, Adelaide. Since Adelaide’s passing, Kelly has continued to write candidly about her arduous and, at times, contradictory grief journey.