An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir by Elizabeth McCracken
My rating: 5 stars
Overview from Goodreads: "This is the happiest
story in the world with the saddest ending," writes Elizabeth McCracken
in her powerful, inspiring memoir. A prize-winning, successful novelist
in her 30s, McCracken was happy to be an itinerant writer and
self-proclaimed spinster. But suddenly she fell in love, got married,
and two years ago was living in a remote part of France, working on her
novel, and waiting for the birth of her first child.
This book is
about what happened next. In her ninth month of pregnancy, she learned
that her baby boy had died. How do you deal with and recover from this
kind of loss? Of course you don't--but you go on. And if you have ever
experienced loss or love someone who has, the company of this remarkable
book will help you go on. With humor and warmth and unfailing
generosity, McCracken considers the nature of love and grief. She opens
her heart and leaves all of ours the richer for it.
I would absolutely recommend this to anyone who has suffered the loss of a child.
Every experience is different, (just as every pregnancy is different), but there are threads that connect us all and this author manages to weave those together while sharing her story. There were so many times I was nodding my head, or flagging passages - even though my story is different from hers.
"All I can say is, it's a sort of kinship, as though there is a family
tree of grief. On this branch the lost children, on this the suicided
parents, here the beloved mentally ill siblings. When something terrible
happens, you discover all of a sudden that you have a new set of
relatives, people with whom you can speak in the shorthand of cousins."
There were raw truths about things being completely different, yet never the same:
"I had just stepped over the border from happy pregnancy to grief, but I
could still see that better, blither country, could smell the air over
my shoulder, could remember my fluency there, the dumb jokes, the
gestures, the disappointing cuisine, the rarefied climate. I knew
already I could never go back, not then, not for any future pregnancy
(should I be so lucky)." (pg 21)
"After most deaths, I imagine, the awfulness lies in how
everything's changed: you no longer recognize the form of your days.
There's a hole. It's person-shaped and it follows you everywhere, to
bed, to the dinner table, in the car. For us what was killing was how
nothing had changed. We'd been waiting to be transformed, and now here
we were, back in our old life." (pg 97)
She touched on not wanting to talk about it, but wanting people to know her son Pudding (a nickname they called him while she was pregnant), died. She talks about having it printed up on cards that she can just hand to people - it seems easier for people to read the news and that way no one has to actually speak it.
I had to put the book down when I read that. So much yes. I don't always want to talk about Cece, but I want everyone I see - stranger or friend alike - to know this happened. McCracken says her card would say her first child was stillborn. Mine might say:
Always dreamed of being a mother, but cannot get pregnant. After three and a half years of being told no, we were finally told yes, but our daughter died through miscarriage.
McCracken talks about not wanting to wish away the experience - I nodded at that too. I absolutely hate that this happened, but I don't regret the time we had with her.
She even hits the nail on the head about letters and cards and emails, and how they can be such a lifeline.
"Before Pudding died, I'd thought condolence notes were simply small bits of old-fashioned etiquette, important but universally acknowledged as inadequate gestures. Now they felt like oxygen, and only now do I fully understand why: to know that other people were sad made Pudding more real." (pg 78)
Honestly, this review is not even close to doing this book justice. The author is real, and raw, and vulnerable, and I will carry her story with me from now on. Highly recommend.
"But my grief was still fresh, grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of the grieving..." (pg 80)