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Carole Geithner Discusses Her First Novel, “If Only”

At a luncheon Thursday, the wife of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner spoke about her book, which aims to help teens deal with loss and bereavement.

In the living room of Ginny Grenham’s Wesley Heights home, Carole Geithner talks to members of Founding Friends of PEN/Faulkner. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Carole Geithner was 25 years old when her mother died of cancer. As would be expected, the loss was a startling and formative episode. “I experienced the world stopping. I felt very much alone,” she says. It influenced her to choose a path of social work and counseling bereaved school-age children, experiences she explores in her first novel, If Only, which she describes as a “coming-of-age novel about a girl who lost her mother in her eighth-grade year.” (Read Drew Bratcher’s review of the book.)

Geithner, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavior sciences at George Washington University, was the guest of honor Thursday at a luncheon in Wesley Heights hosted by Ginny Grenham and other members of the Founding Friends of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Her husband is Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Recalling the period after her mother’s death, she says it was “an awkward dance of ‘Do I want to talk about it or not?’” When she did bring up the subject, people reacted by “leaning in or leaning out.” She saw similar situations with the middle school children she worked with at a bereavement center in Westchester, New York. “They all had in common the death of a parent or the death of a sibling,” she says. “They experienced a sense of isolation.”

What Geithner found in her bereavement support group was that books helped a lot. “But for this teenage group, there were not a lot of books that get into the grief experience. I decided there was a need, and I had the time. I drew on the experience of working with all these children.” She also says, “I wanted to write a book for kids who can’t get to a support group.” She recommends the book for teenagers especially, but also their “friends, teachers, neighbors, even members of their own family, because they don’t know what to bring up and when.”

Geithner knows it is a tough subject, but she didn’t let that dissuade her. “We can come up with 20 books that are about life, but this is a book about death.” Sadly, she says, the subject is taboo. “We don’t want death to be part of everyday life.”

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