The recent New York Times Op Ed by Hope Edelman hit a chord. Entitled “I Couldn’t Say ‘My Mother’ Without Crying” the article’s theme is that “There’s no quick fix for childhood grief.”
Hundreds of people commented and September 1’s letters column was full of responses.
I look forward to reading Edelman’s new book The Aftergrief. It’s not a happy subject. But it is one that has always been at the back of my mind. Why am I interested? I did not have the misfortune of losing my own dear mother when I was a child.
But she did.
My mother lost her own when she was twelve years old. Her mother, Stella, died of lymphoma at the age of thirty-six. On the cusp of adolescence, my mother and her younger sister had to go and live with their grandmother. While loving, “Gran” was old fashioned and weary after raising her own brood of ten.
Years later my mother told me, tears in her eyes, that she and her sister were not allowed to go to their mother’s funeral, and stayed home alone. When he returned from the burial, their father built a big bonfire in the back yard and burned all their mother’s clothes. And the next day at school, they entered a culture of silence. Neither teachers nor friends mentioned their loss.
This repression haunted my mother ever after. She lived her entire life hiding her never-ending grief, and her anxiety grew and grew.
People often ask what inspires an author. “Is your story autobiographical?” they want to know. Usually it is not. But I do know that in writing my new novel, now finished and awaiting a published home, I drew on what I knew about my mother’s grief. In my book, my protagonist, Maelle, lost her mother at the age of ten in mysterious circumstances. Sent to live with her grandparents, she, like my mother, entered a culture of silence. No one would talk about why and how her mother had died.
That’s where my imagination took off and I created a mystery and a totally fictional family.
I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my book’s journey to publication.
“Coping” by Brian Leon of Ottawa is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0