Have you lost somebody you loved?
Of course you have. I know from all the people who spoke to me and shared stories after my brother Eli died in the spring. Maybe you told me yours. I loved hearing those stories. I don’t know what I will do with them yet, but they are all still alive, here in my mind, waiting to come out in some way.
This quote jumped out at me over Shabbos, and I wanted to share it.
"It's a sort of kinship, as though there is a family tree of grief. On this branch the lost children, on this the suicided parents, here the beloved mentally ill siblings. When something terrible happens, you discover all of a sudden that you have a new set of relatives, people with whom you can speak in the shorthand of cousins."
- Elizabeth McCracken, from the book An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination
Will you believe me if I tell you that a book about grief can be funny? Happy? Optimistic?
"This is the happiest story in the world, with the saddest ending," McCracken begins her memoir, about the loss of a baby, and the birth of two more. About becoming a mother and a bereaved mother in the same instant.
This is not a new book, and I secretly suspect that I read it once before. But it spoke to me in a new way now because, I suppose, some of my losses are fresher than others. Because I have discovered all those new cousins, with whom I speak in the shorthand of grief and beloved mentally ill siblings. (Though that quote is the only reference to mental illness in the book itself.)
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination travels with McCracken all the way through the tunnel, to the light at the other end, without entirely casting off the darkness that she will always carry as a result of her experience. You can enjoy a short excerpt here.
Back before I blogged (blogs didn’t exist yet), I used to post a book quote on my website every month or so. (A website? How old-fashioned! I know, I know.)
I’d just type out a short bit that I’d come across that was beautiful, or memorable, or special in some other way. In August 2001, I wrote, about these book quotes,
Sometimes a story is so much more. And some days, in my life as a writer of fiction, the best I can do is to retype the genius of others and hope -- the way patterning developmentally delayed children may reinforce sluggish neural pathways -- that with practice, my fingers will learn to create simple, elegant prose like this in my own work.
It’s still true. Artists used to copy old masters, and I would probably do well to copy, over and over, works of literary genius. And I still believe I ought to.
Perhaps someday, when I’m not writing so darn much, I’ll actually find the time to do it.