Posted on 05 January 2012
It was five months after my mother’s death. I was 20 years old, had just finished my sophomore year of college, and was struggling. I decided to attend a grief group at a local hospital in the hopes that it would provide me with some sort of solace or help.
What I experienced, instead, was a disaster. I sympathized with the many other attendees, but let’s just say there was no connection, no common ground. It wasn’t my first grief group or counseling experience, but it was the first one I found torturous. I suffered through the entire session because I felt too paralyzed to leave. But then, on my way out, the counselor pulled me aside. She led me to the bookshelf, handed me a copy of Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman, and said, “I think this might help you.”
I went straight home and read the entire thing. Then I went out and bought my own copy, along with Edelman’s Letters from Motherless Daughters. At the time, I needed those books. I needed them because in late December 2000, I went from having a mom — a mom who had cancer, yes, but a mom I still expected to be around for awhile — to not, in just under 48 hours. My brother and I took her to the emergency room for “back problems” (denial is an amazing force) on Friday night, and by Sunday evening she was gone. I returned to college only two weeks later, where I tried to put on a happy face, drank way way too much, and somehow still managed to pull a 4.0 that semester, most likely out of desperation and terror. When the semester ended I headed back to my hometown, where I drove around alone at night, feeling entirely disconnected from everything I had once known. And then a counselor gave me a book and I finally had something to hold on to.
I’m thinking of Edelman’s books now because a Q&A with our very own Averil brought them to the front of my memory. Thanks to that Q&A, I made a note to read Edelman’s new memoir, The Possibility of Everything. While I might be beyond needing to read about grief, those motherless daughters books brought me to Edelman’s writing, and now I want to see what she’s been up to more recently.
In other words, I’m over at Averil’s place today, answering her excellent questions about Living Arrangements that I swear aren’t as somber as this post.
As far as Edelman’s books go, they still sit on my bookshelf today. If I cracked one open again, I’d find the passages I’d highlighted, the ones that meant the most to me back then. But I’d rather leave those books closed on the shelf for now, to let a little more time pass between who I was then and who I am now.