Sunday, October 18, 2015

Review: A Grand Slam of a Memoir entitled The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith

Dear Lit Loves,

I always love it when a generally unknown writer creates a memoir that touches on a deep subject and then tells the story in such a way that she knocks it out of the park; a homer or better yet, a grand slam.  Why?  Because it gives me hope that a literary agent has recognized that you don't have to be a celebrity to write a bestseller and that there is an editor who is brave enough not to shy away from what some members of the literary community will say is dreary subject matter.  In other words, it gives me hope that there is a distinct possibility that the same could happen for a writer such as myself.

I finished reading The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith.  This was her first book and a memoir about the cycle of grief and turmoil following the loss of her parents.  Her mother died when the author was eighteen and her father died when she was twenty-five years of age.  First, the reader is escorted through the process via chapter timelines marked by not only the year, but the age of the author at the time.  It is quickly apparent to me after having lost my dad recently to cancer that each person experiences grief in a different way.  And also, there are some categorically essentially truths that most people encounter when a parent is lost.

First, the author loses her mom and misses the actual point where her mom dies due to stopping along her route home from college.  This haunts her for a long time.  We then see the author experience a period of turmoil where she is almost nomadic.  She loses her way.  The audience sees how she begins to spiral into drinking, going from one romantic relationship to another, moving from place to place and one job to another.  In one particular relationship it was quite evident that the guy with whom she was involved was capable of domestic violence.  He is angered easily, volatile, manipulative, controlling, highly arrogant, and then the recognizable trait of being almost incapable of sympathy.  When you've been up close and personal with a man like this, you can recognize it from a mile away and I definitely picked up on the nature of this one particular partner with whom she becomes involved.  The author then loses her dad when she is twenty-five years old but not before getting to know him really well as the two of them try to find their way through a thick fog of grief following the wife/mother's passing.  And no, she doesn't miss the moment when her father takes his last breath; she's there with him and present for that quite important moment.

Several good points are made regarding grief and death of a parent.  I think it's true that when a parent dies a part of you simply stops.  You can go into a state of shock.  A person may then go on to experience despair, hostility, and meaninglessness.   And I must say I agree with the author that grieving is a lonely process.  No one, until they've been in your shoes and lost a parent, really understands what you're feeling.  Ms. Bidwell Smith says grief is like another country.  To me it's like falling into a void, a place of nothingness.  Time almost seems to stop and your own life comes to a halt while you watch everyone else in the world rushing here and there with their own lives.  For me it's a feeling of my world has been turned upside down and this guy over here is upset about a scratch on his car door or a woman in line at the bank for more than ten minutes begins having a nuclear meltdown because it's taking up too much of her time.  You almost want to shout, "Oh really?!  Get a clue!  I realize it's disappointing and inconvenient, but hell, you didn't just watch someone who shaped you as a child and adult die!"   I've been in situations like that and you just realize life is too short to get caught up and overwhelmed by the trivial stuff.  After you've held your parent's hand when he/she has taken their last breath, when you watched a parent actively die right before your eyes, you begin to recognize what constitutes real disaster and not by choice, you become quite familiar with looking real disaster in the face.

Ultimately, the author finds her purpose and calling in life by volunteering at a newly built program assisting youth after school.  She goes on to finish a master's degree is clinical psychology and becomes a grief counselor at hospice.  I don't want to give away the ending to this book, but I thought it was quite poignant that the author's father tells her before he dies that life is worth living and if there were no death, we wouldn't realize how sweet and precious life is.  I think as a hospice counselor the author knows how powerful it is to have someone present with you when death comes knocking at you or your family's door.  And ultimately, Ms Bidwell Smith is correct when she says that losing someone like a parent is like having a physical wound that eventually heals, but it leaves a scar.  A scar serving as a reminder of a battle and the memory of your survival as well as how that experience has made you into the person you are now and today.

Truly, I highly recommend this book. 

Till my next read, review, or publishing experience,

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review: After This: When Life Is Over Where Do We Go? by Claire Bidwell Smith

Dear Lit Loves,

Oh. My. Goodness.  I have a fantastic narrative/prescriptive book recommendation!  I liked it so much that I wrote the author and the editor.  The author hasn't gotten back to me, but she is also a full-time grief counselor so like all of us in the writing world, she's juggling a lot.  I learned from an associate editor at Avery (who is quite kind and responds supportively to potential debut authors) that the editor of this book, Denise Roy, has left Penguin Random House.  So I wrote the senior editor who took her place to thank her for PRH acquiring and publishing this book.  She didn't respond.  Oh well.  That's her loss and that speaks to a part of the reputation being built by Penguin Random House.  The associate editor that corresponds with me is a smart and lovely young editor. That does not negate the fact that After This:  When Life Is Over Where Do We Go? by Claire Bidwell Smith is a fantastic read and I highly recommend it.  Here's why:

This book wholeheartedly explores the author's exploration, following the deaths of her mom and dad, the questions that persist with many of us left behind when we lose a parent:  Where are they now?  Are they still with us?  Can they see what's going on in our lives?  Do they know how much we miss them?   These questions obviously resonated with me in a quite profound way as I just lost my dad after a twelve year intensive battle with a rare form of lymphoma.  I truly struggled with his death because I didn't think my dad should have died from pneumonia.  His newly assigned oncologist didn't recognize the symptoms, did not perform the appropriate tests, and neglected to hospitalize a high-risk cancer patient and administer the appropriate antibiotics dad required.  And the cancer center's administration, when I brought this to their attention, basically ignored me and treated me, my dad, and my family in an abrasive fashion after my questioning of their holier than thou new oncologist. 

So Ms. Claire Bidwell Smith, who also wrote The Rules of Inheritance, about her struggle with her parents' deaths, is right on the money when she finds her audience in those folks like me who struggle daily with how to proceed in life following the death of a parent.  Ms Smith like me is profoundly struck by all the attention and celebration paid to the birth of a person and how well-trained our society seems to be in regards to recoiling and shrinking away from the dying person.  No folks, let me tell you from personal experience that is when a person and their family needs people the most.    So to discover potential answers to the questions of what happened to her parents once they died and how will she proceed in life following their deaths, Ms. Smith explores the inner world of psychics, mediums, shamanism, past life regression practioners, seances, and faiths.  I will not give away here on my blog what she learns through being open to all these sources of information.  And I loved the way at the end of each chapter she writes a note to her daughters about what she wants them to know not only about life and death, but the values of their mom and what special characteristics she notices in each of her daughters that will certainly inform their life path as they mature. 

Here's what Claire Bidwell Smith and I know from our experiences with the death of a parent or a sincerely close friend:  those folks' spirit is still with us.  They are all around us.  When someone that close to you dies, you must make meaning of it and discover what it is this experience teaches you.  What values or good can you do in the world today that would make that deceased loved one proud or honor them in some way?.  For me, it's how I treat people in my everyday existence.  And it's potentially helping others through sharing my life experiences via memoir or personal narrative.  Because here's the real clincher folks:  Human life is but a small bit of our soul's experience in this world.  We're not yet done when we leave this earthly existence.  And those that have gone before of us are still here, just in another form.  We are the living proof and product of those dear loved ones we and the world have lost.  We are their legacy and there is only a temporary goodbye.  We will see them again.

Fabulous book.  Order it, swing by Barnes & Noble and buy it, or read someone else's copy.  It's a beautiful testament to both life, death, and the people we have lost who have touched our lives.

Till my next review.