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.