Out of Grief, Singing: A Memoir of Motherhood and Loss

Out of Grief, Singing: A Memoir of Motherhood and Loss



About the book

  • Globe and Mail "My Book of The Year" Pick 2010
  • McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award Finalist
  • Alexander Isbister Award for Non-Fiction Finalist

Out of Grief, Singing is an achingly beautiful account of how a woman comes to terms with the loss of her newborn. After a bewildering series of rapid diagnoses and emergency interventions, Charlene's daughter Chloe is born. But her too-brief life is spent in the neonatal intensive care unit, and her mother, leveled by an epidural anaesthetic procedure gone wrong, can barely make it to her daughter's side. In the months following Chloe's death, more medical crises make it nearly impossible to even begin the grieving process, let alone return to any semblance of a normal life. But return she does, along a path that is both arduous and rich. With a poet's ear for language, Charlene Diehl shares her discovery of joy amidst a devastating loss.

About the author

Diehl, Charlene

Charlene Diehl is a writer, editor, performer, and director of THIN AIR, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. She did her graduate work at the University of Manitoba, receiving a PhD in 1992 under the supervision of Robert Kroetsch. After a post-doc at McGill, and seven years as a professor in the English Department at the University of Waterloo, she returned to Winnipeg in 2000. She has published essays, poetry, non-fiction, reviews, and interviews in journals across Canada, and has to her credit a scholarly book on Fred Wah as well as a collection of poetry, lamentations, and two chapbooks, mm and The Lover's Handbook. Excerpts from Out of Grief, Singing, which appeared in Prairie Fire, won a Western Canadian Magazine Gold Award. She was the featured poet in the fall 2007 issue of CV2. When she's not chasing literary language (or her two speedy pre-teens), she edits dig! magazine, Winnipeg's bi-monthly jazz publication.


I've brought the inkprints of Chloe's feet, perfect prints of perfect feet, unutterably small. They signal, better than anything, the extremity of this place I'm inhabiting. How could any feet be this tiny? Could the fierce, spirited baby, the baby who has died, have had feet this tiny? Perfect, human feet. How could I be the mother of a child with feet so tiny? How could the wearer of these feet be dead? How could I be the mother of a dead baby? I skitter toward the feet, I skitter away from them.

I try not to think about this part: the footprints were made after Chloe died. A nurse, gentle hands cradling this lost body, washed her, dressed her, photographed her. She printed her hands, printed her feet. She did these things, last rites, out of respect for this baby, and for her father who stood watch hour upon hour, for her damaged mother, for the grandmother who hovered between the baby and her own daughter.

I hold the inkprints of Chloe's feet, and I keep returning to the pink parchment. I resolutely refused pink myself as a child - I was too proud for pink, too sensitive to the unstated equation of femininity and weakness. But now I know something else: a premature baby has so little fat that the narrow arms and feet, the round belly, the ears and fingers and neck and ankles are ruddy, the deepest pink. The blood that streams furiously around the tiny body is scarcely below the surface, boiling with resolve, on an imperious mission to feed, defend, rescue. How could I choose green, or beige, or burgundy? Pink is a softer-than-Chloe color, but it's her color. She spent her days naked, wearing her skin bravely and with determination. I know now that pink is a tough color.

From Charlene Diehl

Why did you write this book and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

I began working on this book several years ago, then came back to it seriously over the past year. Early on, I wanted to find a way to tell the story of Chloe’s birth and death and the very hard work of those first years of adjusting to that experience. Over the past couple of years, I’ve realized that coming to terms with this kind of loss in a healthy way is a life project—I wanted to catch some of the threads of that process.

As a reader and writer, I looked to books for help and solace when I…

December 2010


How is dealing with the loss of a newborn different from the death of a parent, sibling, or spouse?

When people gather after a death, they find consolation in sharing memories and stories of the person who has died. When an infant dies, there are so few stories—and often only the parents and immediate caregivers know them. So the people who are most anguished have to share the stories in order to connect with and feel supported by others in their group. That being said, mourning is an intense process of adjusting to a new normal, no matter what has changed, so dealing with infant loss has a lot in common with any traumatic loss.

December 2010



Charlene Diehl, the director of Thin Air, Winnipeg’s International Writers Festival, is also the mother of two healthy and active pre-teens. But in 1995, Diehl gave birth to Chloe Denise, who died after living just six days. Diehl has published… >>

Uptown Magazine

I read much of this book not weeping, but sobbing — and yet, the overall experience is one of hope. Out of Grief, Singing will appeal to anyone who has lost a child, to anyone who has lost a loved… >>

— Alison Pick The Globe and Mail

Grief — the psychological reaction to loss — is as complicated as it is intense. Though not an easy subject to study, the research on grief has enhanced our understanding of this very human but somewhat elusive experience. Helpful as… >>

— Peter Naus

This is a work steeped in melancholy. Its gestation has been long and pain-laced and it is fearless in its defiance of despair. But withal, it is a labour of love, a testament of love, a geography of grief transmuted… >>

— Michael W. Higgins Fredericton Telegraph-Journal

It’s been a very interesting revision of me," professed Canadian author Charlene Diehl to a room of captivated Wilfrid Laurier University students, fans and friends as she presented a reading of her 2010 memoir Out of Grief, Singing. Diehl’s memoir… >>

The Cord, Wilfrid Laurier University

I can’t help thinking about how I would critique Diehl’s memoir if it were a novel– during most of her daughter’s brief life in the NICU, Diehl was suffering from a variety of post-birth complications and hardly saw her before… >>

— Kerry Clare

Diehl is a poet as well as an academic, and her prose is polished but full. Her words follow a rhythm that can be felt, like a subtle bass note, or a barely audible heartbeat. Out of Grief, Singing is… >>

Quill & Quire

A heartbreaking lament, a beautiful hymn, and a memorable ode to a gone daughter, Out of Grief, Singing claims Chloe’s place in the human family.  With its passion for language, meaning, love, and life in all its unpredictable variety, Diehl’s… >>

The Winnipeg Review

American novelist Jodi Picoult is acclaimed for her gut-wrenching women's stories, like the story of the euthanasia pact between two siblings in My Sister's Keeper. This memoir of losing an infant, by the director of the annual Winnipeg literary festival… >>

The Winnipeg Free Press

Life Lessons 
Grieving leads to hope, courage, author believes. 

For many people, the loss of a baby is a very personal and private experience they avoid talking about.  

Charlene Diehl wrote a… >>

— Liz Katynski Prairie books Now

Book recounts journey from grief to song 

Grief can be devestating, but it an also be an enriching experience. A book by a Boissevain native tracks her own personal journey with grief and what is waiting on… >>

— Paul Rayner The Recorder

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