What kind of toll does it take on the one who is left behind by a spouse who loses their life to a terminal disease? Unfortunately, Scott knows all too well the feelings of despair and loneliness at losing the love of his life. Months after the death of his wife, he is creeping closer and closer to the idea of ending it all himself, but thankfully, with the help of his father-in-law, he picks himself up and agrees to attend a group therapy session for those grieving the loss of a loved one. When another man there sparks something deep inside Scott, something he hasn’t felt in a long time, he is scared and guilt-ridden over the idea of moving on, despite it being something his wife would have wanted for him. Now, Scott must come to terms with the idea that he is attracted to Chris and somehow allow himself to accept that life should go on despite the pain and guilt he is feeling.
What Comes After by Quinn Ward starts out so well. There is a shocking beginning that is terribly sad and sets up the whole premise for why Scott is the person he’s become just months later. Loss for Scott is absolutely gutting—leaving behind very little will to go on in the daily hell he is trying to survive and later nearly burying him in survivor’s guilt when he begins to try and live again. If not for his in-laws, Scott may very well have succeeded in ending his life rather than agreeing to go to group therapy. It’s there that he meets Chris who, despite being a licensed therapist himself, is still grappling with the suicide of his own sister. As the story slowly progresses, we watch these two men come to care for each other and yet still meet roadblock after roadblock, mainly due to Scott’s difficulty in moving on and learning it’s okay to embrace life and happiness again.
Then the two men hit a bump in the road—a big disagreement over the need to get space from the fact that they have been spending nearly every day together since their meeting. For some reason, it is here the author decides to allow Chris’ parents to treat their son as though he is still a child and heap recriminations on him, when I actually thought his request to Scott to spend a little time apart is valid. Chris wasn’t deserting Scott—something Scott fears as everyone he’s every loved has either died or left him behind; instead, Chris is trying to give them both the chance to make sure the love that so quickly sprung up between them is genuine and can stand on its own without constant interaction (read: living in each other’s hip pocket). Honestly, the over-the-top reaction by Chris’ parents when he suggests this to Scott and Scott storming off did not feel in any way believable, nor does how Chris acquiesces and quickly admits it was a stupid idea and he is all at fault that Scott left. That just doesn’t ring true when the story is already rife with Scott losing his temper every time he feels threatened or afraid Chris will leave him.
That leads me to my other concern that Scott seemed much more immature than Chris. I understand that he is dealing with a great loss, but so is Chris and honestly, the way that Scott runs hot and cold is a bit alarming. So is the fact that he is not in therapy beyond a few of the former group therapy sessions. If anyone needed a counselor, it is Scott, yet that never really is discussed; in fact, it is Jim that occasionally asks Scott to come back to group, but again, Scott rebuffs him and Chris never pushes the issue despite how volatile Scott’s emotions are.
What began as a really emotional and compassionate story about loss and grieving somehow loses its way as the story bled into the healing phase. What Comes After became more of a codependent love story rather than a metamorphosis from crippling grief to learning how to live and enjoy life again. I do think this author is quite good at writing emotion and shaping characters who are more loners than anything else into a couple who are loving and supportive of each other. However, there are just a few too many gaps in this story to lend it the credibility it needs to be a realistic picture of healing and beginning again.