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December 6, 2014

Kristin Harmel: SEE THE MOON and the Comfort of Books

Posted by emily

Kristin Harmel is the bestselling author of THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING, inspired, in part, by her own beloved grandmother. In her latest novel, THE LIFE INTENDED, she weaves a heart-wrenching tale that asks: What does it take to move forward in life without forgetting the past? It’s a timely question for Kristin, whose grandmother passed away earlier this year. Here, she talks about the book her grandma used to read to her, and the comfort it still brings her as she remembers her grandma this holiday season.

My grandmother, who was one of the inspirations for my last novel, THE SWEETNESS OF FORGETTING, died earlier this year, which was bittersweet and heartbreaking. She’d had a long battle with Alzheimer’s, and although I miss her terribly, it’s comforting to know she’s not struggling or hurting anymore.

The day after my grandma’s funeral, my sister approached me with a stack of children’s books. “I found these while going through Grandma’s house,” she said. “Do any of them look familiar to you?”

My eyes widened as I caught sight of a peeling, twilight-blue spine that I hadn’t seen in years. SEE THE MOON,” I murmured, pulling the book from the pile.

I gazed at the cover in awe, memories flooding back in. It was a simple board book, published in 1980, the year after I was born. The moon and the stars on the deep blue pages glowed in the dark, and I remember being fascinated by that as a little girl. My grandmother read it to me each time we visited, and I especially remember sitting with her during the holidays, enjoying our time together to the backdrop of family chatter and the scent of a roast in the oven.

As I opened the book and flipped through, I could hear my grandmother’s sweet voice, tinged by her beautiful New England accent, reciting the words to me, although it had been 30 years since we’d last read it together. I could remember sitting on her lap, looking at the illustrations of a dark city skyline beneath a glowing night sky, gazing at the pictures of a baby tucked in tight beside a nightlight. “Sleep tight, baby, all through the night,” my grandma’s voice said in my head.

“Do you want to keep the book?” my sister asked, pulling me back to the present.

I managed a nod, blinking back tears. I brought the book home with me, and in the moments since then, when I’ve missed my grandma the most, I’ve pulled it out and flipped through the pages, cherishing the memories, feeling like she was with me again.

When people ask why I became a writer, I often say that it’s largely because I’m awed by the power of words on a page to move people, touch people, change people. I talk about THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and how it’s amazing to me that her words have lived on and have reached millions over the world, across the generations. But holding SEE THE MOON for the first time in 30 years reminded me of another thing I love about books: their power to hold memories.

As long as I have SEE THE MOON, there will always be a piece of my grandma with me, and I’ll always be grateful for that. Long ago, she gave me the gift of reading, and when my sister handed off the tattered book to me earlier this year, it was like receiving that gift all over again. One day, I hope I’ll read the book to my own kids, and my grandma will be with us in spirit, too.

My grandma’s birthday is in December, so I’ve been thinking of her a lot lately. And I know I’ll think of her throughout the holiday season, too, because she’s such a big part of my Christmas memories. So when she’s on my mind, I’ll pull out SEE THE MOON, and I’ll look through the pages, hearing her voice in my head again, imagining her somewhere beyond the sky that holds that sleeping moon and those glowing stars. And I’ll be comforted by the knowledge that she’s finally at peace.

Sleep tight, Grandma, all through the night.