Posts Tagged ‘carol shields’

coming to terms.

19 August 2010

when i purchased the stone diaries for my mother, i didn’t realize the book was a bildungsroman where the main character’s mother died during childbirth. i only knew that she had enjoyed a few of shields’s other books (unless and swann are beside me on the shelf) and that shields herself died of cancer (breast). also, the book was only a dollar at edward mckay’s.

i don’t think she ever read it, receiving it just a month before her death, but i wanted to isolate one section, spoken by (the character) labina anythony green dukes:

i held my tongue and tried not to scold or fret too much over the things she’d do. i’d say to myself, remember this poor child is motherless, and there’s not one thing worse in this world than being motherless

i know i’ve talked before about the concept of being an orphan, growing old enough to, in a sense, be my mother’s mother, and, as her biographer, so to speak, being the one people rely on for the story behind her life. i’ve written at length about the way our legacy changes once we die, with some uplifting us to pedestals we have never reached (and would be uncomfortable to reach) and others (this is where i, hopefully, come in) clinging to veracity, attempting to stay as close to reality, even when it is stinging.

i would love to give you a review of the book but anything i write would be filtered through loss and tainted by grief. obviously it can be argued — and i would not win this argument — that art is always shaped by experience, but still i don’t really want to talk about the book, okay?

i think i want to talk about my mother. it’s been slightly over a year and a half since she died. sometimes it feels like she died during childbirth, my memories of her foggy and made up from stories my family has told me, at other times — more frequently — it feels like it happened yesterday or is continuing to happen, playing on repeat to relive continuously.

while my mom was dying i sought comfort wherever i could get it, mostly in the wrong sources, mostly in dangerous places, because, so my flawed thinking went, if, for example, i was held at gunpoint with only a slight possibility of surviving, perhaps i’ll concentrate on that and not on the fact that my mother is strapped to machines, progressing quickly toward death.

for a long time afterward, i continued, keeping people at a distance, thinking that if i didn’t let myself become vulnerable, thinking that if i didn’t grow attached to anyone, then i could never possibly feel that amount of pain again.

i was wrong. you grow close to people even if it’s not your intention. we’re like stones, over time tiny cracks form and water freezes inside those cracks and the cracks become larger. it doesn’t make you a failure to confide in people and show that you are not as strong as you’ve let on. not that it makes you a success to confide only in the four people that consistently read your blog, but i’m just saying.

i guess i’ve recognized a lot of things lately, over the last few months, and i’ve tried to quickly fix those things without asking anyone for help. maybe it’s time. maybe the people i have hurt along the way can forgive me for not being strong enough to tell them the truth in the first place and being too stubborn to speak to someone who could help me.

i know i’m being vague, but some of you know what i’m alluding to, and others can at least glean some form of advice, a primer for how to act, or a moral behind the fable. but i’m not asking anyone to make excuses for me, to restrain from scolding merely because i’ve been left motherless.

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in opposition to hagiography.

2 February 2009

i’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that we lack agency in posthoumously appointing a biographer, a theme prevalent in the work of carol shields, insomuch as the women’s lives detailed in her novels could appear mundane from one vantage point, but remarkable and heroic from another. obviously she thought about how one doesn’t have to pass a test in order to write (or speak) about the deceased, how we are all limited by certain biases and experiences, and how these cannot help but color our retelling.

back in october, when death became omnipresent, i told my mom that i planned to document the remainder of her life and its impact on us. i felt obligated, as i’ve touched on in a previous post, to present the facts unedited, to express the pain and joy in honest — and believable — amounts.

a week or so before her death, we met with a minister, the only time, during her stay at beacon place when at least one of the three of us wasn’t at her side. as part of my mother’s service, the minister was giving a speech about her hobbies (drinking tea, gardening, reading, traveling with my dad). she asked us questions and took her own impressions from them, eventually weaving bible verses in with her prose.

it felt odd, and i didn’t offer much even when prompted. after all, i was planning my own eulogy and didn’t want someone who had never even heard my mother’s voice stealing my good lines. more than this small concern, however, my reticence was caused by the fact that her presence was superfluous. none of us are typical religious believers: my sister follows, in mind if not always in practice, various eastern flavor-of-the-month teachings; my dad oscillates for fear of being wrong when it counts (when asked, during our meeting, if he had a prayer he preferred, he stumbled, you know, um, the lord is my shepherd, that’s always a good one, yeah). my mom lived, not because of rewards guaranteed in a potential afterlife, but because she liked to make people smile, she wanted to help others realize their best.

the pious tend to become sanctimonious when people are dying. we began to hear often that it was part of god’s plan that we were not made to understand, as if that should provide solace to any rational person. on the day my mother died an elderly man told my father that god wanted her more. if my dad hadn’t been so weak from mourning his loss, he would have guaranteed that god also wanted that elderly man more.

in her speech, the minister detailed my mother’s work with the mentally retarded: managing group homes in canada; finding advocates, raising awareness, and educating the community here in the united states. she summed this section up by referring to her actions as dare i say, christ-like.

i don’t understand the rampant desire to misrepresent someone once they have passed away, when they are cherished abundantly for their actual biography. while my mother and jesus have the same initials, they are not the same person. in fact, legend says that one died for the other’s sins a few millennia ago.

a more valid appreciation for the way my mother touched lives could be found later when those in the audience were invited to say a few words on her behalf. a neighbor spoke of how she would watch her in the backyard, tending to her flowerbed, and was now struck with a gaping void. she beseeched us to get to know those around us before it was too late, before we made the same mistake she had. her words were delivered with such vitriol that one would believe if they didn’t introduce themselves to their neighbors that very afternoon they would have to deal with this wild-haired woman’s admonishment in their dreams.

goldenrod and the 4-h stone.

19 December 2008

1. last week a stuffed animal, pencillin, arrived from giant microbes for my mom. she’s allergic to the actual antibiotic so i figured she’d enjoy a plush version, which she has affectionately named penny. it rests on a machine used to suction mucus from the opening in her trachea.

2. today i brought her blueberry juice from trader joe’s. she doesn’t drink liquids by mouth regularly, due to the complications with her feeding tubes, but has recently craved juices to determine whether her sense of taste has improved. pear wasn’t strong enough. if nothing else she’ll appreciate the irony of drinking such an antioxidant-rich beverage.

3. for christmas i’m giving her a copy of the stone diaries by carol shields. the book is a fictional autobiography of a woman whose mother dies during childbirth. from there, her life continues rather ordinarily (she marries, has children, grows older), but as we examine her resiliency through difficult times, we understood that she is vibrant and inspirational. true, that’s pretty much the idea behind all of carol shields’s books, but this is presumably her best.


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