*Overshare warning. First a quick note on oversharing. Oversharing isn’t really a thing. As a writer, I’m used to putting stuff out there and I’ve gotten comfortable doing it; it no longer scares me. I probably put stuff out there that other people wouldn’t be comfortable putting out there, but labeling something “oversharing” is essentially suggesting there’s a consensus on what’s appropriate to share and that people are rude for not complying. Utter nonsense, if you think about it, but I also appreciate people stopping by and reading this blog and I’m not here trying to shock anyone or make them uncomfortable and sorry that they stopped by.
Some of you know my mother has survived lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, and an eye melanoma over the course of more than a decade, all with surgical cures. She now has cancer in her liver and surgery isn’t currently an option. She is benefitting from some incredible improvements in how cancer is treated. Her daughters have been out from Florida and Seattle, respectively, twice and all her grandchildren once and she was feeling well enough to enjoy being with them. We have good reason to be optimistic about much more to come, but having lost one parent, already, I’ve been preparing a mental list of books to reread should the day come I need to grieve for another.
1. Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut
As I recall, this was a partly whacky science fiction romp with some touching moments, as well. A boy and his parents were on, I think, probably, Titan? the moon/planet and were set to leave but the son was nowhere to be found at liftoff. He must have been a bit of a misanthropist because he decided to stay alone, rather than return with them to Earth, but he called out and thanked his parents for “the gift of life.”
2. The Stranger, by Albert Camus
This is the novel with the famous first line: “Mother died today.” The Stranger’s not for everyone, but it’s so short, it’s not much of a time investment, I highly recommend reading it. I’m sure I’ve read it a half dozen times and loved it every time.
3. The Life and Times of Michael K., by J.M. Coetzee
I was reading this book about a man who had to carry his ailing mother in a wheelbarrow converted into a carriage across a somehow or other collapsing country right when a moment I’ll never forget happened. My mom and I were at a park for a family reunion and she had to get to a restroom. We had to traverse a maze of sidewalks to get to whichever pavilion included one. We decided to cross a patch of uneven grass, and this was soon after she had her cancerous eye removed, so I stayed close to her side to catch her if she fell, and all the weight of the much more dire circumstances of Michael K. getting his mother across a ravaged country and all the emotion from reading that book hit me in that relatively mundane moment of guiding my mom to that pavilion. (The grass wasn’t even that uneven!) That was a great lesson in the power of fiction. After she died, Michael K. started barely subsisting off the land and burying himself in progressively deeper holes. I forget how it ended. I’ll find out hopefully no time soon.
4. The Cement Garden, by Ian McEwan
This has to be the most misunderstood book ever written; except I have no idea what anyone else thinks about it. I would call it the greatest mood book I’ve ever read. By coincidence I read it shortly after my dad died. These children lose their parents but don’t exactly get what’s happened to them and continue to live in their house without anyone knowing. So they unravel, they regress. They’re children still in need of being raised, but the book evokes a feeling even adults of any age relate to at the prospect or at the event of losing their parents: What the hell next and why? These books I hope not to reread anytime soon might sound bleak but that’s where fiction can help us most, I think. More uplifting books will hopefully be added to the list but books some people might think of as depressing can also be uplifting in the experience of connection they offer to the more painful elements embedded in the mystery of life as a human being.
5. Letters Home, by Rex Jones
This one will be a maybe. Listening to my grandparents fantasize about the love they had waiting for my infant mother, as I read their WWII letters and turned them into the book, gave my relationship to her as a son new perspective. To contemplate her being given that unconditional love, which she then passed on to me, was one of a number of profound mind blowers working on Letters Home gave me. That part will/would be tough to get through, but from past experience, I believe grief is an agonizing process that leads to being able to enjoy, again, to rediscover, those eternal moments of joy with a passed loved one. So I’ll be able to read Letters Home and enjoy it even if she’s gone.