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Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Suffering and Triumph

Occasionally you read a book that stays with you long after you have read the last page, Leave of Absence is one of those books.

Tanya J Peterson, author of Leave of Absence, stopped by FFP HQ to talk about her first novel.

As a novel, Leave of Absence is, obviously, fiction. It’s fiction in that the characters aren’t based on real people, and their stories are completely made up. That said, the issues experienced and the nature of their struggles are very real indeed. Leave of Absence explores schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and grief. It explores human suffering and the triumphant power of human connection.

The novel is set primarily in a behavioral health center (the term “center” is starting to replace the use of the world “hospital” to describe in-patient psychiatric care). Airhaven Behavioral Health Center is where two of the main characters meet. One such character is a man named Oliver Graham.

Oliver, in his late thirties, loved his life. He was married to a woman he loved and adored, and, after years of unsuccessful attempts to have a child, he and his wife had a little boy. One warm, sunny spring day, Oliver’s wife and son were ripped from his life. He witnessed some of the horror of their deaths, and he can’t get the scene out of his mind. In Oliver’s mind, his life ended that day, too, and all he wants, other than having his family back, is to die.

Through Oliver, readers see and feel post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and complicated mourning. Oliver also shows us what can lead to healing. This scene from early in the novel, when Oliver is in the process of admittance into Airhaven, gives a tiny glimpse into Oliver’s struggles:

“I decided that I would like to leave.  Thanks anyway, but I would rather not be here.  May I please go?”
Matt responded first.  “Oh.  Okay.  That’s fine, of course.”
“I’m curious, though.  Where would you rather be?”
The way Matt worded the question threw him off guard.  He would never, ever be where he would rather be.  They were gone forever.  The thought zapped the bit of energy he had summoned to escape.  A wave of pain washed over him, leaving him even weaker than before.  He leaned against the wall for support and squeezed his eyes shut.  He just wanted to complete what he had failed at earlier today.
“You seem to be struggling with that question.  Why?  What’s going on?” Matt continued to press him.
“Just let me go.  Please.  I was supposed to die today, not come here.  Please, just let me go,” Oliver mumbled. 
Jennifer chimed in.  “Maybe you weren’t supposed to die today.  Maybe you were supposed to live.”
“Why do people keep saying that?  You have no idea! You don’t understand…”  Oliver’s voice cracked.  Unable to support himself any longer, he slid down the wall until he sat on the floor.   He pulled his legs up, wrapped his arms around them, and laid his forehead on his knees. 
Matt and Jennifer sat down beside him.  Matt spoke.  “You’re absolutely right.  We don’t understand.  But that’s what we’re here for.  We want to listen.  We want to understand.  And, most importantly, we want to help you understand.  Why don’t you stay with us for a while?  Just give it a little try.”
Oliver had no energy left to argue.  Without looking up, he simply shrugged in defeat.

Oliver Graham is fictitious. But Airhaven is based on a real-life behavioral health center. And his yearning for love is very real indeed. It’s a core component of the human experience. Oliver needs human connection just like we do. And Leave of Absence explores the power of this very connection.

More about Leave of Absence and Tanya J Peterson at

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