Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book Review: An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination

I don't remember where I heard about this book. I remember hearing, a few months ago, that was a somehow uplifting book about a woman's experience of grief after her full-term baby was stillborn. I tucked it in the back of my head, but didn't buy it till last week.

Most books/experiences related to the loss of a child I approach like wild animals, cautiously, and slowly. They seem so unpredictable, some helping, some hurting. I opened this one, and read a few lines, and it didn't hurt. So last night, after commemorating 2 years that Henry's been gone, I read it cover to cover in one sitting.

There is no pretense in this book. No hiding, no prettying up, no intentional emotional highs or lows. It is what it is. Elizabeth McCracken writes of her loss and grief so matter-of-factly. It really feels like sitting down, with a real person, and talking, for real, about what it's like.

The differences between losing a full term unborn child and losing a four year old are vanishingly small. The details of the loss don't matter, the loss is the same. She hits on so many things that I have thought and said myself. I felt so validated, less alone in reading this.

A few passages that really spoke to me:

I don't want those footprints framed on the wall, but I don't want to hide them beneath the false bottom of a trunk. I don't want to wear my heart on my sleeve or put it away in cold storage. I don't want to fetishize, I don't want to repress, I want his death to be what it is: a fact. Something that people know without me having to explain it. I don't feel the need to tell my story to everyone, but when people ask, Is this your first child? I can't bear any of the possible answers.

And another:

Once you've been on the losing side of great odds, you never find statistics comforting again.

And another, where she voices the struggle between the loving and remembering mixing in with the regret and anger:

His entire life had turned out to be the forty-one weeks and one day of his gestation, and those days were happy. We couldn't pretend that they weren't. It would be like pretending that he himself was a bad thing, something to be regretted, and I didn't. I would have done the whole thing over again even knowing how it would end. (Would I really? It's a kind of maternal puzzle I can't get at even now: he isn't here, and yet how can I even consider wishing him away? I can't love and regret him both.)

I hesitate saying that "I recommend" this book to grieving parents. We are all so different, our experiences and family cultures so different. But I will say that I found this book profoundly honest and somewhat comforting. I'm very glad I read it.


Arlene (AJ) said...

If reading this book brought you comfort that's what is most important dear. No one who hasn't gone through what you have could possibly know the pain you've suffered for the past 2 years and the loss you'll always feel for your darling Henry. The book may help others so it's good that you talked about it. Bless you dear.

rlbates said...

{{{hug}}} to you and your family.

I know of loss, not the loss of a child, but loss....the part that hit me was "Once you've been on the losing side of great odds, you never find statistics comforting again." That has been so true since my mother died of her surgical complication (<3%). Might as well be 100% when you are one of those <3%.

Karen said...

Then I am glad that you found this book. I am glad that you feel less alone--it seemed that this was something you needed, particularly after your previous post. (Also, I'm glad to know of this book. A colleague of mine recently lost her full-term, first child. I won't thrust this on her, of course, but I'm glad to know of a book that she might, someday, appreciate reading.)

I watch my son grow--approaching the age at which Henry was first diagnosed--and I think of you and of him frequently, though we never met.

SOCKS said...

I can see how you related to her personal feelings and insight. I will also read this book.

Thank you for sharing.

radioactive girl said...

"Once you've been on the losing side of great odds, you never find statistics comforting again."

I think this is, for me, the hardest thing to deal with. I always had such an optimistic look at how things would go. I always had such trust that things would all be fine. Now I sort of expect bad and when things are going well I worry that I am missing something.

I always find it so interesting that although the two of us are/have been dealing with such different situations, the feelings we seem to feel are much the same. I am so sorry for your loss,I know I can't possibly know what you feel since I am not you, and not in your situation but please know that my heart hurts for you so so much. Sometimes I feel comfort in the fact that you understand what I am feeling sometimes when no one else seems to even though our situations are different. It's kind of less awful for me sometimes knowing you will understand. But I hate that you understand and have felt the feelings too.

Anonymous said...

The passages you cited went right to my heart, as with rlbates, I could relate them to personal loss in general. Thank you for sharing.

femail doc said...

"I can't love and regret him both." That passage applies I think to parents of living children, living with great challenges. The whole notion of love and loss, and how the latter can co-exist with the former is so difficult; I can only say the passage of time clearly establishes a new normal, and you will surely become more separate from she who grieves while still being one and the same. Good heavens, big hug and thoughts to you!