Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Writing as Catharsis

Each year that I live in Florida I find that, rather than adjusting to the heat, I have a more and more difficult time with its enervating effects. Adjusting my walking schedule to early mornings rather than evening is one way to deal with it and listening to my books as I make my rounds of the neighborhood gets my brain firing on overdrive.
This morning I began Roger Rosenblatt's Making Toast; A Family Story and already my mind is full of musings on the nature of death, religion, fate and grief. Because I have never given birth, I often feel that I'm at an emotional disadvantage in even attempting to understand the bond between a mother and her child. That said, I still cannot fathom a deeper loss than  parents outliving their son or daughter.

Rosenblatt, a writer, teacher and humanist, of whom I was not aware until recently (to my shame) has written a small, deeply personal account of the aftermath of his daughter Amy's sudden death at the age of 38. Amy and her husband Harris Solomon were both doctors and devoted parents to three young children when she collapsed at home.
Mr. Rosenblatt tries to make sense, if any can be made, of the heart anomaly that took his daughter's life. He examines how human beings handle the stages of grief so differently, his wife Ginny wanting to understand every detail of the birth defect that caused Amy's heart to stop, he not caring why, just cursedly, understandably, angry at Fate.

While their son-in-law Harris compartmentalizes his anguish as a way to continue to function as a surgeon and father to three little ones, Roger and Ginny move from their home in Quogue into the Solomon household to help raise their grand kids, a move of unparalleled unselfishness which we are witnessing more and more often as, for various reason, grandparents are taking over the responsibilities of their grand kids. Do I admire them? More than I can express! Could I do it? Honestly, I don't believe so.

Refreshingly irreligious, the Rosenblatts refuse to rail away at God or any other higher power and eschew those who would offer platitudes and assurances that Amy is "in a better place." In fact, the man who speaks at her memorial service counters that her place is here on earth in the loving arms of her husband, raising her kids and doing her work. I love it.

As I continue to get to know the Rosenblatts I am reminded of my stepmother Edith who, among those who didn't take the time to know her well, was considered something of a cold, withholding woman. On the contrary, I grew to see her as a woman who, having outlived two husbands and two of her four daughters, carried within a grief so profound that it couldn't help but affect her personality to a great degree. Often, like Mr. Rosenblatt does with his grand kids, she preferred to just sit companionably with me and read for hours. I never felt closer to her than at those times.

Making Toast is a beautiful, small but mighty book that will make you think about and miss those you have loved. And isn't that really the best way we can honor them?

Barbara Hoffert has trusted me with a new novel by Paul Auster and I have 9 days to read and review it so you won't be hearing from me for a while. Just to give you an idea though - I burned through the first 100 pages last night in no time! Didn't even nod off!

 I'm also getting ready for a vacation and have lost patience with a couple of books including the very well-received The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I guess it was a tad too sweet for me. I'm also cutting loose Zadie Smith's book of essays for being too erudite. I love her novels and thought On Beauty was outstanding, but this collection reads like a group of master's theses.

1 comment:

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