Finding a new purpose after unspeakable loss

shards1In the predawn hours of November 15, 2002, every parent’s worst nightmare strikes journalist and aspiring teacher Ken Brack, who along with his wife learns that his son has died in a car crash. Trying to make sense of the unspeakable, he sets out to find how people rebuild their lives after catastrophic loss, chronicling the stories of families who heal by finding a new purpose. Meeting parents and siblings, students and entrepreneurs from across the country, Brack gathers the wrenching and ultimately uplifting stories of people who step beyond themselves, often as they confront the very forces that tore apart their lives.

Together they offer hope to others searching for answers.

Driven by an arresting emotional intimacy that is anchored in the author’s narrative voice, Hope of a Broader Day offers fresh light on what comes next after horrific ordeals. Among the families Brack follows are two parents whose response to tragedy break the silence about sexual assaults on college campuses to confront a national disgrace. Other complete accounts are also gathered for the first time, including those of a volunteer firefighter’s brother and friends inspired by his unselfishness to create a day of service and remembrance honoring 9/11 victims. Three brothers from Poland who survive the Holocaust take disparate paths to confront their trauma decades later, becoming witnesses to remind the world as they find a mashed-up space to reconcile the past. Moving through such trials, many of these people rediscover gifts their loved ones left while finding a sacred duty. Together they offer hope to others searching for answers.

Threading a grieving father’s questions into a quilt of universal voices with a hybrid of narrative, reportorial, and creative nonfiction, Brack examines the arc of growth that is possible following traumatic experiences. The book speaks directly to readers facing loss and to a broader audience compelled by stories of compassion, resilience, and our potential to heal. The author and his wife face occasional fractures as he grapples with the cause of his son’s death while she reaches out to support other bereaved parents. Six years later, in 2008 they opened a nonprofit center offering support groups, counseling, and wellness programs that became a leading resource to families in Massachusetts, Hope Floats Healing and Wellness Center, in Kingston, Ma.

The Quilt: Metaphor and Method

As reflected in the visual motif for this web site, a patchwork quilt is a central metaphor for the book. Ten years after losing their son, Ken’s wife, Denise Brack, decided to make quilts for their two other kenpatternchildren using Mike’s clothes–some of his signature t-shirts and pants–a creative, restorative step which she needed to carefully prepare herself for. The design embedded here replicates her first quilt made for both parents. On one level, cutting and sewing together pieces of his clothes into something new and lasting, replete with memories of Mike’s antics and laughter, represents their attempt to make meaning from his loss. While the book is anchored in the family’s struggle, it focuses mostly on others who transform their lives after trauma and loss, facing their pain and vulnerability and forging something lasting from it.

On another level, the quilt signifies the writer’s method documenting the stories of some nine or 10 families and groups, threaded by his experience and sensibilities. The crafting and style of this work is a hybrid of narrative non-fiction blended with literary journalism and seams of memoir. All of which means that most of the time Brack conveys true stories of other people, and while occasionally forming composites of events with existing accounts, the voices of these protagonists remain paramount. The expression and integration of his family’s ordeal losing their son shapes the author’s questions and interactions with others, and during intermittent stretches Brack embeds with them as both a seeker and guide for the reader.

It’s more about what comes next.


While this full-length work relays accounts of staggering heartbreak, it’s more about what comes next. How we get up from the couch, keeping our hearts open to, and moving through grief, rather than “getting over it” per se. Interwoven themes include pushing the limits of resilience and reconciliation, finding ongoing spiritual connections with loved ones, and separating from traditional faith moorings. Brack also examines the fractures couples face after losing a child, and in one section track the origins and growth of peer-based child bereavement supports across the United States. He began research and writing in 2010, interviewing more than 300 people across the country and continuing with many on multiple occasions over several years. Anticipated publication is in the summer of 2016.