Good Grief

By Anne Jackson (99BA), 2020 Write Now Finalist

"You getting off?" a girl asked, holding the door.

Farah pushed off the back wall of the elevator, glanced at the five on the wall and nodded.

Farah headed for her spot, booted up her dinosaur laptop and pulled out the notes she'd borrowed. She dug past books and highlighters. Frantic, she dumped her bag out. No cord.

Panic bloomed. Her laptop held a charge for two hours, tops. She was so behind. Closing her eyes, she took three deep breaths. She sat down and searched the Main Library website. She'd heard of a laptop cord rental service, but where?

Desperate, she clicked "Ask a librarian." Chat was offline, but a catalogue of librarians popped up. She clicked the email address of the librarian listed under "General." A message window opened addressed to m-decimal@uiowa.edu.

"I need to borrow a power cord. Where do I do that? Urgent."

She hit send, then started her first paper.

A message popped up.

"The service desk on the first floor checks out cords. ~ M. Dewey"

Twenty minutes later she was back in business. She scrolled down her to-do list. She'd met with professors and negotiated extensions, but the timeline was still impossible.

"You should drop for the semester," a professor had suggested. "Come back when you've had time to process."

"I can't afford that," Farah replied. "I don't know if I can afford any of this much longer," she said.

"I see," he'd replied. "I'll give you three weeks. You'll need to keep up with the current work, too, otherwise you'll be lost."

One week later and there was still a mountain to do. Slipping on her headphones she got to work.

Hours later, headphones on her neck, hands gripping her hair she grunted in frustration. The paper was done but she couldn't figure out the last citation.

She sent the question off to her new buddy, M. Dewey and moved on. It was a hail Mary, but it couldn't hurt.

A message popped up with the answer an hour later, and the call number for a book for future questions. She replied "Life saver!" and soldiered on.

Four days later Farah rubbed her face to shake off hours of sitting. A song came on that clutched her heart. Her face in her hands, she wept.

A tap on her shoulder made her jump. Soft brown eyes behind plastic glasses peered at her.

"You ok?" he asked.

"Just great, thanks," she replied.

"I mean, obviously not, but do you need anything?" he asked.

"Sorry. I'll keep it down," she replied.

"Oh, no. I wasn't," he started.

She put up her hand and said, "Thanks. Really. I'm fine." With that he was dismissed.

She blew her nose in a napkin as he retreated. 'Do I need anything?' she wondered.

She sent a message to her librarian,

"I need modern books on dealing with grief and loss. Ideas?"

She went back to work.

A message popped up just as she was packing up for the night.

"BF575.G7 K82 – a therapy book on grief
PS3618.O8336 Z46 – essays on grief 
One of these should get you started.
~ M. Dewey"

She checked out the first one and headed home.

A few nights later, Farah read the first two chapters of the grief book and a sucking hole of sorrow opened under her sternum.

She turned to her laptop.

"M. Dewey,

My Dad died last month. We lost Mom years ago. I'm doing all the things I'm supposed to, but why? I've been my father's daughter all my life. Who am I without him?"

She hit send and went home.

The next day she woke to a reply.

"Take care of yourself. If you can't, that's ok. There are people who can help." This was followed by the link and number for the University Counseling Services.

Farah looked at it for a long time, then clicked the link and made an appointment.

A month later Farah was back at her spot. She couldn't focus. Her counselor had been talking her through the grief stages. She hated that such a thing could follow a formula. Despite her efforts to skip ahead to acceptance, she was sliding into depression. Her classwork was caught up. Crisis averted; she was bombarded with deferred sadness. She opened a message to M. Dewey and typed,

"What fills the hole in us after grief?"
She hit send, packed up and headed to work.
She logged on the next morning and found a reply.
"PR9272.9.W3 A17, page 328.
~ M. Dewey"

Intrigued, she jotted down the info, got ready and headed out.

An hour later, she approached the librarian staff office, her finger still marking "Love after Love" in the book she held. She caught someone coming out and asked, "Can you tell me if M. Dewey is working here?"

The man stopped and looked confused.

"I mean, is he here today?" she asked.

"I'm sorry," he said. "No one by that name works here."

"Yes. He does," Farah insisted. "I emailed the General 'Ask a Librarian' and he replied."

Understanding dawned on the man's face. "Oh! Mr. Dewey! Right this way," he said ushering her in. They stopped at an overburdened bookshelf. He pointed to a portly goldfish eyeing them from a bowl. "This is Mr. Melvil Dewey."

Farah looked from the fish to the man. "I don't understand," she said.

"Mr. Dewey is our office pet. The General topics box rotates. We take turns. So, we made Melvil here the owner and gave him an email address. That way we can pass it around," he said.

"How often do you switch off?" Farah asked.

"It's a two-day shift. You'd be surprised the volume of questions that box gets," he answered.

Farah looked past him into the room. A few librarians worked quietly at desks and two were deep in conversation.

"Did you need anything else," he asked.

Farah looked at him and said, "No. You've gave me what I needed. Thank you."


Check out all of the 2020 finalists.

Join our email list
Get the latest news and information for alumni, fans, and friends of the University of Iowa.
Iowa Stories
Iowa Magazine
Explore the Spring 2020 edition of the Iowa Magazine.