MTPR

Love Stories At Life's End With Joyce Lynette Hocker

Jun 28, 2018

In The Trail to Tincup: Love Stories at Life’s End, a psychologist reckons with the loss of four family members within a span of two years. Hocker works backward into the lives of these people and forward into the values, perspective, and qualities they bestowed before and after leaving. Following the trail to their common gravesite in Tincup, Colorado, she remembers and recounts decisive stories and delves into artifacts, journals, and her own dreams. In the process the grip of grief begins to lessen, death braids its way into life, and life informs the losses with abiding connections. Gradually, she begins to find herself capable of imagining life without her sister and best friend. Toward the end of the book Hocker’s own near-death experience illuminates how familiarity with her individual mortality helps her live with joy, confidence, and openness.

Trail to Tincup: Love Stories at Life's End

The following highlights are from a conversation with Joyce Lynette Hocker about her book The Trail to Tincup: Love Stories at Life's End. Click to listen now or subscribe to our podcast.

Sarah Aronson: The subtitle of the book is “Love Stories at Life’s End.” These aren’t stories of romance, so why call them love stories?

Joyce Lynette Hocker: I thought about that. They’re stories of the love that we shared but I also write about their loves, their own loves and losses. The way we tell those stories to each other differently at the end of life. I used love stories also because I had always felt very close to my sister and my father, but surprisingly found a different kind of love with my mother—to and from each other. So, they’re stories of their loves, my love for them, our past together, and also the way relationships can and do change even up to the moment of death. Therefore I see them as love stories.

You make a note of heartbreak throughout, but you also counter it by writing, “a heart that breaks open can still hold love.” Can you describe a moment where you felt this duality most intensely?

That would have to be when I heard Janice’s diagnosis on January 5th. I was looking at the Joanna Macy quote from which that comes and I found myself on the floor in the dining room--sobbing, wailing--I even used the word “keening,” which I hadn’t understood before.  I felt such love for her at that point and my heart was so broken. I didn’t know whether I could stand it, whether I could live through it. But love and heartbreak can and do exist together over and over and over again.

Also I think that we—well, I’ll speak for myself—if I don’t let my heart break, it means I’m not going to experience the love as deeply as I can. So protecting myself and being more distant wouldn’t have been right for me because I love these people dearly and I needed to be as close as I possibly could.

What surprised you about your own process of grief?

I was surprised that I could live through it. I had always said that the worst thing that could ever  happen to me would be if something were to happen to Janice, because I loved her so much from the very moment when our dad put her on my lap when I was three and a half. There were times I thought I might die of grief, I really did. It surprises me that one can feel that bereft, truly bereft, and then come back to life. . .

I also found it surprising in a positive way how much more I wanted to listen to other people’s stories—in and out of my office—of deep grief. It didn’t bother me; I didn’t shy away from them. That was a pleasant surprise.

I want to know what you would offer for those who are grieving, or those who are living with or loving grieving people, because I think there can be an awkward silence that befalls all parties when we’re in the face of loss. What advice do you have for those trying to live it out or trying to comfort someone?

For the general friend community or acquaintance community, not inside the therapy office right now, but just thinking about life as we go about it at farmer’s market and the grocery stores and every other place we see our friends and acquaintances. I think it’s a good idea to find something else to say besides “How are you doing?” Because the person is either doing very, very badly and they don’t want to start crying or burden you, but I’ve found it better to say something like: “I want you to know I’ve been thinking about you. I’ve been holding you in my heart and I’m here to listen to anything you want to tell me about what you’re experiencing.” And I’ll do that even in the grocery store, now. But I try not to ask them pointed questions, but to create a spacious room for the stories that they may want to share.

Then in my office I do the same then but then I also would say, “We haven’t talked about the death of your sister for a while and I’m wondering how that’s going for you? What’s unfolding? What’s happening in your life these days?”

So I don’t ever ask the question—I hope people will stop asking the question, “Are you getting through it? Are you moving on? Have you been able to move on?”— which I actually see as a quite cruel question.

About the Book:

In The Trail to Tincup: Love Stories at Life’s End, a psychologist reckons with the loss of four family members within a span of two years. Hocker works backward into the lives of these people and forward into the values, perspective, and qualities they bestowed before and after leaving. Following the trail to their common gravesite in Tincup, Colorado, she remembers and recounts decisive stories and delves into artifacts, journals, and her own dreams. In the process the grip of grief begins to lessen, death braids its way into life, and life informs the losses with abiding connections. Gradually, she begins to find herself capable of imagining life without her sister and best friend. Toward the end of the book Hocker’s own near-death experience illuminates how familiarity with her individual mortality helps her live with joy, confidence, and openness.

Credit Tiffany Williams

About the Author:

Joyce Lynnette Hocker grew up in Texas and is a descendent of four generations of Texans on both sides. She obtained a PhD in communication from the University of Texas–Austin, and later received a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Montana. Her academic career as a communication studies professor brought her to Missoula, Montana in 1976, where she began her private practice in 1985. Hocker is the author of Interpersonal Conflict, a best-selling text used in more than 250 colleges and universities, now in its 10th edition. Now in semi-retirement, Joyce teaches in the Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Montana, and at Red Willow Learning Center, a nonprofit in Missoula, which supports resilience in people who suffer difficult life experiences. She lives with her husband, Gary Hawk, and their tuxedo cat, Lonestar.