“I don’t even know what I would have wanted someone to say. Not: It will be better. Not: You don’t think you’ll live through this, but you will. Maybe: Tomorrow you will spontaneously combust. Tomorrow, finally your misery will turn to wax and heat and you will burn and melt till nothing is left in your chair but a greasy childless smudge. That might have comforted me.”
It took me a long time to figure out which gem of a quote I wanted to use from Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir about the stillborn birth of her child, and subsequent and birth of her second child just over a year later. I love the above quote for it’s rawness and honesty, and though I have never experienced anything in the same context, I responded powerfully to it’s truth. This story is paved with insights and runs the gamut of human emotions in turn: grief, love, fear and regret, hope, joy.
McCracken starts the book by brazenly putting the facts of her experience out there before retreating to happier times and the much easier story of who she was before she met her husband, the life they built together and the anticipation of their first child, affectionately nicknamed Pudding, in utero. But, like chopping an onion you know that the tears will eventually come, and they do as McCracken builds her double narrative toward the final memories of the painful death of her first child as it contributes to anxiety in the birth of her second.
Who knows what other people think? Not me, and especially not then. Still it surprised me, every time I saw someone who didn’t mention it. I am writing this and trying to imagine how it felt at the time, and trying to imagine what people were thinking. I am trying to remember what I have thought when I have done the same thing, all those times I didn’t mention some great sadness upon seeing someone for the first time. Did I really think that by not saying words of consolation aloud, I was doing people a favor? As though to mention sadness I was “reminding” them of the terrible thing?
This book’s strength lies with its unerring ability to relate unimaginable grief and love that leaves no room for anything except empathy and understanding. In sharing her story with us, Elizabeth McCracken shares how we can support ourselves and those we love through the trials of heartbreaking loss.