Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Review: The Knitting Circle

This is my first official novel that I've listened to, not read.

My car is old enough (as most are) not to have an ipod jack. It took me several months of whining to myself about not being able to listen to my iPhone in the car to realize that upgrading my radio would be a lot cheaper than replacing my car. I'm clever like that. So hubby got the radio replaced for my birthday, and for Mother's Day bought me The Knitting Circle for my iPhone.

As mentioned in a previous post, Ann Hood's The Knitting Circle is the semi-autobiographical account of a woman named Mary whose daughter died suddenly at age 5. The novel picks up about 6 months after Stella's death, and tracks Mary's grief journey for a couple of years.

I didn't love it. The writing style was bland, the conversations contrived, and the storyline relatively predictable.

But, the content really spoke to me. Hood nails many of the experiences of a bereaved parent, from the awkward conversations with friends who now don't know what to say to you, to the pain of various anniversaries and memories, to the self-absorption that I think all bereaved parents experience and can't escape. She also described a clinical depression well.

And, she very capably explained the sedative properties of knitting, the way that the movement of the needles and the feel of the yarn somehow distracts the brain enough from the ongoing pain that there is a taste of relief.

I'm not sure if the act of listening to the book rather than reading it altered my experience of it or not. I sure did enjoy my commute more.

To me, a glaring omission was the lack of exploration of the existential angst that it seems that most bereaved parents go through. The is-there-a-god-why-did-you-god-screw-you-god-i-need-you-god-what's-the-effing-point that I have heard from most bereaved parents was very very absent. From an author's standpoint, I would think this would be worth exploring. I'm not sure why she left it alone.

It wasn't as depressing as I thought it would be. I did cry, in two places, but by and large I was not overwhelmed by the sadness of the story. It's interesting, years ago I swore off of Oprah's book club after reading Map of the World and another sad story, wondering why in the hell people would spend their free time reading tragic, depressing novels. Now I guess I know.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Henry's Hustle

I had a rough day yesterday. The worst in a long time.

Last year, to honor Henry, our elementary school put on an all day carnival, with the aim of fundraising for pediatric cancer research. They raised $18,000 for Alex's Lemonade Stand, truly amazing and remarkable. The teacher who dreamed up and spearheaded the effort received an award of recognition from the county, which he deserved.

It was a very difficult day for me. It had only been a few months since Henry had died. I hadn't gotten past feeling like one of my kids was missing whenever we went somewhere. I choked back tears much of the day, and found myself exhausted by it. Immeasurably grateful, but exhausted.

After the event, we were dumbfounded to find that they intended to make it an annual event. Heartwarming barely begins to describe it. We were truly honored.

The second Henry's Hustle was yesterday. I mentioned a few posts ago how even as I am amazed and humbled by the dedication and generosity that go into this, I dread these events. All the emotion is back, the loss is again fresh, and the publicness (is that a word?) of our loss is very very uncomfortable. I've felt the tension build a bit this week, and expected an exhausting day again.

We ran over to the school to drop off some items. I was immediately overwhelmed with emotion. The sheer volume of people who had worked on this event, given their time, effort, and money was remarkable. When that flow of emotion started, I couldn't stop it. I had to run home with my middling to pick up a few more items, and started crying in the car on the way home. She saw me, in the rear view mirror, and her excited and happy face fell to see me crying. Her disappointment aided the snow balling. By the time we got back to the school, I told her I would join her in a moment. Once she was gone, though, there was nothing holding me back. I sobbed in the car for a half hour before I told my husband I couldn't come.

I went home and cried, uncontrollably, for ninety minutes. The tragedy of Henry's death. The love and warmth of that community. The loss after loss after loss that my family has suffered over the last two and a half years. My guilt over not even showing up to this event that all these people who didn't know me had created. Most of the time I didn't know what I was crying about, it was all jumbled up.

Finally, I was able to compose myself. I made it back to the school, and out of the car. The girls were having a blast, there were kids EVERYWHERE wearing Henry's Hustle Tshirts. There were friends there to support us. It was amazing. And overwhelming. After sobbing on the vice principal's shoulder, I pulled it together for twenty minutes, and then I was done.

I ended up back at home, alone, crying, drinking wine at 11 am and eating chocolate to calm my nerves. What a high point for me.

A dear friend and my extended family came and took care of me, and I spent the rest of the day completely spent but unable to sleep.

I'm not sure what to think about it. It's bizarre to me to think about, but that's the most out of control I've been since this whole thing started. When Henry got sick, I couldn't lose it. He needed me, Mr. Smak needed me, the girls needed me. All through the treatment, the horror, the relapse, his death, the grief, I've never lost it.

Maybe I needed to. Maybe it was time. Maybe I wasn't strong enough to lose it before, maybe I was too afraid I wouldn't make it back.

I wouldn't mind if another day like yesterday never happened again. But somehow I felt like it needed to.

And today, I woke up feeling great. We took the girls hiking today, and I was able to take in the beauty of what was around us without feeling sad, without that often-present afterthought about Henry not being here. It was nice.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


A couple years ago I wrote a post about playing the Wii with Henry, even as his avatar bore the signs of his chemotherapy.

He never elected to change it to one with hair, though he did add a hat and sunglasses at one point.

There are certain games where the Wii populates "extras" with various saved avatars. It's oddly comforting to see Henry unexpectedly driving in the car next to you. I like it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Red Thread

I've said before that I'm comforted by the sheer enormity of the universe, and my unimaginably insignificant role in it. I don't see those chance happenings that others do as ways that the universe tried to make my day, or tell me something; for me, the randomness of life is so comforting.

Alas, even a cynic can wonder about fate from time to time.

I had an hour in the car yesterday while at work, by myself, out in one of the many stretches of rural America that lacks an FM signal. I scrolled through my NPR reader and landed on the Diane Rehm show, and randomly chose an hour segment titled "Ann Hood, The Red Thread".

Having never heard of either Ann Hood or her red thread, imagine my surprise to hear that she is an author who writes from the perspective of a bereaved parent. She lost her 5 year old daughter Grace to an invasive streptococcal infection abruptly, and used knitting as her therapy to help her navigate her grief.

Weird, huh?

The interview was excellent, you can find it here. She wrote a semi-autobiographical novel 5 years after her daughter died called The Knitting Circle. I hope to read it, though part of me thinks I'm not quite ready yet.

The novel for which she was being interviewed today, The Red Thread, refers to the ancient Chinese belief which states that when a child is born invisible red threads connect that child's soul to all those people - present and in the future - who will play a part in that child's life. As each birthday passes, those threads shorten and tighten, bringing closer those people who are fated to be together. After Grace died, Hood and her husband decided to adopt a baby girl from China. The book is a fictional account of five families who go to adopt, as well as the account of the chinese mothers who made that horrible decision to give their infants away. The concept of the red thread obviously runs deep in the adoption community. It's a lovely thought.

Don't worry, readers, I'm not going soft. I'm still the cold-hearted scientific non-theist that I've always been. But, that was weird, and the interview very touching.

As an aside, I'm having an unusually light for weeks. Henry is, though it pains me to write this, far from my mind. At times I feel like his story happened to another family. The intrusive thoughts that were disrupting me constantly a few weeks ago are gone. And, as all grieving parents do, I'm starting to feel guilty about all of this. I can enjoy a few of the good days in a row, and then I start to wonder what's wrong with me. I keep thinking I should have learned by now that it will be back. I'm trying to continue to enjoy the days I have.