‘You can’t accept life if you can’t accept death’: Hands of Hope offers book club for grief and loss

Local libraries offer book discussion clubs for mysteries, romance, fiction, world affairs and cookbooks.

But imagine a book club focused on death and grief. That’s what Hands of Hope began this year with its Turning the Page Book Club, meeting from 6:30 to 8 p.m. the first and third Mondays at 200 Whitfield Drive, Geneva.

“Grief is complicated and can feel impossible to put into words,” according to the book club’s introduction. “Our selections all have one theme in common: Communicating the experience of missing a loved one.”

This month’s selection is “The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World” by Laura Imai Messina. It is about a woman who loses her mother and daughter in the March 11, 2011, tsunami that killed nearly 16,000 people in Japan.

Book club member Mark Meginness of St. Charles voices his thoughts on “The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World” during the Hands of Hope’s grief book club Monday, April 1. Mark Black for Shaw Local News Network

And then there is this phone booth in Japan near the city of Ōtsuchi.

Known as a wind phone, it’s not connected to anything.

That is, nothing tangible, no landline, no cell tower, no satellite.

People go there to dial a number to nowhere and talk to their lost loved ones.

On Monday, April 1, Barb Denges of Bartlett, Dawn Amato of Carol Stream, and Mark Meginness of St. Charles each braved their own personal tsunamis of grief to attend the grief book club.

Led by facilitators Kimberly Rich and Marcia Dingman, they talked about the book — as anyone would at any other book club.

But they also shared their grief.

Amato’s mother died a year ago on Good Friday. Denges lost her husband in August 2021. Meginness is facing the impending loss of his 95-year-old mother-in-law. Rich shared that she still grieves the death of her own mother three years ago. Dingman said her best friend died — and every room in her house has something from her friend in it.

Grief Book Club Marcia Dingman, co-facilitator of Turning the Page, a book club for grief and growth, gives her thoughts on the most recent book during a meeting in Geneva April 1. Mark Black for Shaw Local News Network

Meginness said there was no reason not to continue talking to a lost loved one, wind phone or not.

“I love the book for exposing that people need to do this and it helps with grief,” Meginness said.

“To me, she sums it up beautifully in the book (on) page 330,” Meginness said. “It says, ‘It was an act of pure faith to pick up the receiver, to dial a number, to be answered by a wall of silence and to speak anyway. Faith was the key to it all.’ Well-put in a sentence to all of this stuff.”

The main character, Yui, travels with a man, Takeshi, who lost his wife in the tsunami. His daughter has stopped speaking. They go together to the phone booth.

“It took a long time for her to go through many, many stages of her grief,” Dingman said. “Just the awareness that our journeys are different. … And it’s all, as I say oftentimes, the worst grief is your grief. We don’t compare.”

Denges said she went on her first trip since her husband’s death. Everyone was part of a couple except her.

“I felt like out of place. … I felt like a tag-along,” Denges said. “My husband will be dead three years in August. This was my first trip I went without him. I don’t know how to explain that you don’t feel complete.”

The family made sure she was included in everything, holding her hand when they went walking together, Denges said.

Still, a friend gave her advice to find a gentleman for company to go to a show or dinner.

Denges asked how to do that?

Book club member Barb Denges of Bartlett attends Hands of Hope's Turning the Page Monday, April 1. Mark Black for Shaw Local News Network

“Do I stand on a corner and flag somebody down?” Denges said.

For Amato, this was the first Easter since her mother’s death.

“It was a good day, but it was hard,” Amato said. “My husband’s parents were there, and I kept hugging and kissing them. I was so grateful that they were there.”

Rich just completed her Ph.D. thesis on the issue of employers providing support for their workers when they experience a death.

This will be her last year teaching third grade at Norton Elementary School in St. Charles Unit District 303, as her focus going forward will be teaching about grief support.

“In hindsight, I was so very bad at supporting those people who probably needed something different from me but I didn’t know better,” Rich said. “I wish that we, as a society, did a better job to be more proactive, knowing we are all destined to experience this in some way.”

In particular, when her mother died, a friend said that God needed another angel, which was not helpful, Rich said.

Dingman said that was why teaching others about it is help.

“This is life,” Dingman said. “You can’t accept life until you accept death.”

Turning the Page Book Club is free and open to all, not only those dealing with grief or loss.

The book club’s choices are available at the St. Charles Public Library, and also for purchase with 10% off at Townhouse Books in St. Charles or Harvey’s Tales in Geneva if you mention the book club when making a purchase.

Fox Valley Hands of Hope is a nonprofit that provides guidance and support for those in grief, at no cost.

Register for the book club online at or via email at

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