Monday, October 13, 2008

Thoughts on "Exact Replica" by McCracken

I finished Elizabeth McCracken's book, "An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination" last night. I took a long break after reading the first two chapters, but last night, I decided that I should finish it. Not because it was a page-turner for me, at least not in the sense of that "just can't put it down to find out how it ends" way, because I know how it ends. It doesn't. Once again, life goes on, but so does death. But, I wanted to finish reading the book, and I think Ms. McCracken would completely understand why, after all she ends a chapter with this stark statement, "Closure is bullshit."

I've come to understand myself better in reading the stories and reflections of others. It's an interesting phenomenon that when your child dies, you take that cup of pain and sorrow and death, and search for more death, pain, and sorrow. And the cup doesn't overflow, it grows and makes room and the bereaved seem to mingle and melt together and somehow with this expansion of ourselves by adding others we approach some healing. I think it's that "you need not walk alone" statement The Compassionate Friends use. It's why the MISS Forum is as busy as it is. McCracken states, "I want to hear about every dead baby, everywhere in the world. I want to know their names, Christopher, Strick, Joanathan. I want their mothers to know about Pudding" (p. 138). And earlier, "When a baby dies, other dead children become suddenly visible" (p. 136).

For me reading about her subsequent pregnancy and birth of her second child was painful, not hopeful. I'm old. My eggs are old. I'm not interested in false hope. I'm trying to live my best life. (Please, don't send me a comment that all things are possible. Just send love. I deserve to figure this out within my own family.) At the same time I was overflowing with joy that a living child now rests in her arms, and, not surprising, she makes it clear that a living child does not heal the hurt of the death of her first child, Pudding.

As for the "humor" some reviewers discuss, well, I read some funny. For me it was the kind of humor you had to go to when things are as bad as they can be. The dark humor that I read did not make me laugh, but I understood it. Except, the "Dwarfs of Grief" did make me laugh, and without the laugh I would have melted into despair. Make no mistake, she doesn't make grief funny, but I get the sense that she had the courage to write about her experiences and responses in a raw and honest way. I thought that was glorious. And as a bereaved parent, who also cleans up my language and my stories to reflect what the other person can handle, I was grateful for the sincerity.

I remember writing about being surrounded by babies in church and hearing Buffet's lyric "fins to the left" in my head. Comparing babies to sharks was the humor I needed to not begin wailing in a public place and have strangers remove me so others could worship. I remember "joking" with a friend that seeing people shortly after Caitlin died was excruciating, so much so that I fantasized about having a "Grief Party" and everyone could gather and say "I'm sorry" and KNOW that they were supposed to say "I'm sorry." Then I could swim in the sickening thickness of death and emerge . . . .well I didn't get any farther as my friend look as though she would explode. Too much. The point, McCracken's bits of dark humor were not too much for me. They were true, and she didn't have to refrain from continuing because I already had exploded when Caitlin died.

Would I recommend the book? I don't know. Maybe. Bereaved mothers might want to think about if they need to pour more in, or if they need more avenues for expression of their grief. Friends and family of the bereaved would likely gain some insight into the experiences of bereaved parents. If you're looking for answers, you won't find them, but you will find an honest and raw memoir. And perhaps that will aid you in fashioning your own answers.

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