Besides a handful of mediocre things, I read An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, by Elizabeth McCracken. (And could someone please tell me why her name is so familiar to me? She’s written other things, none of which I’ve read, and yet I feel like I’m familiar with something about her . . . ) This book pretty much took my breath away. It is a memoir about the experience of losing her first child, who was still-born. I find myself wanting to buy copies for everyone I know who has experienced the death of a child—or, really, of anyone close. There are some really poignant and profound observations. Mostly, it’s just the details and truthfulness of the observations that kicks me in the solar plexus. Here’s an excerpt:
When I called my friend Ann the first time after Pudding died, she immediately asked what she could do, and then did everything, and then kept asking, and she sent out an e-mail to tell people I hadn’t told that was so beautiful—though I have never read it—that I got the most beautiful condolence notes in response. Wendy burst into hysterical tears at the sound of my voice and asked me questions until I’d told the whole story. “Was he a beautiful baby?” she wanted to know, and I wondered how she knew to ask: she was the only one who did. Margi said, “Oh, Elizabeth, please know that if any of us could absorb your pain for you, we would,” and then laughed at all my dark jokes. Bruce, remembering something just as terrible that had happened to him decades before, wrote, “There is no way for such an event to leave you who you are.” Patti, who has seen as much sorrow as anyone I know, was an extraordinary combination of complete sympathy and complete comprehension. My brother said, at the end of a long conversation, “Well, I guess as a family we’ve been pretty lucky that we haven’t had something awful happen before.” My sister-in-law Catherine texted, Poor, poor darling you.
Somehow every one of these things happened at exactly the right time for me. This is why you need everyone you know after a disaster, because there is not one right response. It’s what paralyzes people around the grief-stricken, of course, the idea that there are right things to say and wrong things and it’s better to say nothing than something clumsy.
One of the reasons I read (and I’m sure it’s the same for you) is to find out how it feels to be someone else. And for me, one of the most fascinating and impossible things to imagine is what it feels like to go through something MAJOR like losing a child. We all struggle with imagining this kind of thing, which is why we bumble when it comes time to say something to the person who is grieving. This book does an amazing job of making me feel I’ve been in the mind of a grieving person, and experienced what I can of the taste of her grief.
Right now I know too many people who are hurting very deeply and I am at a complete loss of what to say. As I bumble through it, I pray that someday these friends will look back and be glad I at least tried.