Friday, February 18, 2011

A Memoir of Love and Loss and Life

I was listening to NPR recently, and heard a reference to Elizabeth McCracken's book, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination. As is my wont, I immediately requested the book from our library, and soon thereafter, picked it up and began to read.

This is the memoir of a pregnancy that, instead of leading to happily-ever-after, ends with a stillborn baby. As McCracken writes, "this is the happiest story in the world with the saddest ending." She conveys both the joy of her pregnancy, while living in France, and their grief and sadness, after the baby's death. When I had finished reading, I felt she had let me share that part of their life, had let me meet their boy "Pudding."

McCracken wrote,
After the baby died, I told Edward over and over again that I didn't want to forget any of it: the happiness was real, as real as the baby himself, and it would be terrible, unforgiveable, to forget it. 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.
There were moments of wry humor, such as when the midwife asked "Would you like to speak to a nun," but Edward misunderstood her French, and thought she asked "Would you like to speak to a dwarf?" He said later, "I thought I'd really like to speak to a dwarf about then. I thought it might cheer me up." And as they struggled through the days, they sometimes said to each other, "Where are they when we need them, the Dwarfs of Grief."

There are small sadnesses that surface. McCracken wrote, "My friend Lib has a French friend who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who lost a baby to sudden infant death syndrome. When she found out about Pudding, she said, sadly, "Now France will be ruined for them." And then McCracken confirmed: "It's a part of the world I will never, ever, ever go back to."

I remember listening to an interview once. A father had lost a child, in some horrible incident, and was talking about the grieving process. He said, "You never get over it. But one day, you wake up, and realize it's no longer the first thing you think of."

That is how I view McCracken's story. She doesn't "get over" Pudding's death. She sifts through feelings of grief and sadness, remorse and guilt and loss. She connects with others who have experienced loss. She moves forward with life, and remembers her son with love. She concludes, "It's a happy life, and someone is missing."

When I finished this memoir, I had one regret. My mother had two stillborn children - one before my older brother, and one between his birth and mine. She never said much about it - Mom was not much for talking of such things - but she must have thought about her two missing children. I wonder, did she remember the love as well as the sadness?

1 comment:

  1. Robin, this is a remarkably touching post. I was captivated from the start, but utterly taken in by the last paragraph. Thanks for this reflection.