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  • Writer's pictureGretchen Seefried

Before You Go

My Mom liked to give gifts. When she found something she really liked she would often buy it for everyone on her Christmas list. Though, in her era, guys got guy things, gals got gal things, and kids got kid things. I have to confess that sometimes my sister-in-law and I would roll our eyes as we both opened identical presents. Don’t get me wrong, It wasn’t that we thought she was taking the easy way out. She really did believe that we would both love those placemats, or that bubble vase, or the duck-shaped trivet. And it’s true, sometimes we both did; and maybe her sister, and sister-in-law, and four nieces did too.

So after I reluctantly turned the last page of Tommy Butler’s gorgeous debut novel, I muttered to myself, “you’re becoming your mother” because I can’t help thinking that Before You Go is a gift that everyone might need, whether they know it or not. In fact, it was so good, I kept making excuses to not finish it. I got up to empty the dishwasher, and thought I should get this for Kevin. Then read another paragraph or two, before jumping up to feed the dog while musing about how much Michelle would love it. After the next page, it was time to toss the salad, and as I did I wondered if Melinda had read the book yet?

After dinner and dishes (my last chance to procrastinate) were done, there were no more excuses to not finish the last chapter. When I did, I thought to myself, my therapist would really appreciate this, and then, not a minute later, my new client would totally get it.

Only once before have I gifted the same thing to several people at the same time. Coincidence or not, that gift was a book too. Younger Next Year was a self-help health book about battling our biological clock, and living better longer. I gave it to my five best buddies on one of our earliest yearly Girls’ Weekends. I had been inspired by the premise of pursuing physical health to evade aging and death, and wanted my friends to be too. If I was going to live a long life, I definitely needed to make sure my besties did as well! No sense in gracefully growing old unless I wasn’t alone.

Before You Go is a book about being alone, and not being alone. About living, and about not living. About the empty space inside each of us. And about how we each try to fill it with all kinds of things that we think will make us feel whole. But at its core, this story is actually about the universal search for connection. As human beings, the only thing that can actually make us whole is our connection with another; a parent, a sibling, a friend, a mentor, a lover, a therapist, a soul mate, or just another fragile being who understands what it’s like to be human.

Being connected means feeling seen, understood, accepted, loved. We all know that sense of longing. It both helps and hurts to name it. Maybe that’s why so few people talk, much less write, about it. Tommy Butler has been brave to tackle loneliness, and I’m grateful to him. If I end up sharing this book with more than a few people, it’s because I’m so grateful to them for making me feel, seen, understood, accepted, loved...and therefore not alone. That’s the gift that really keeps on giving...

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