After I finished reading Elizabeth McCracken's book, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, I felt very quiet. We had planned on watching either Love Actually or About a Boy after I finished the final few chapters and now suddenly that plan felt very wrong.
The only thing I could relate this stillness to were two deaths that occurred in our community.
The first was the death of Zoe, Allison's daughter. She had already lost Lennox. I remember reading the news and then going down into the basement where Josh was watching a movie or sports. I stood there for a moment and just stared at him and then I said, "Zoe died. Allison lost Zoe." And we both just stared at each other and then I started crying.
The second was the death of Devin, Natalie's son. I can still remember all the small steps that brought her to that night. First she was on the blogroll under "in the beginning." And then she was doing IUIs. And then it was IVF. And finally, the night I learned about Devin death, it was raining very hard. We had been to a craft store to buy stickers and we came home completely drenched. We had walked through puddles and we were all shivering. I had plans to write the Roundup after the twins went to bed and instead, I wrote the news that I had just read. I sat in the living room, crying while looking at this shaded window. It just seemed unreal.
And this is the deeper point; the mourning for a child you not only don't know but a mother far removed. Yes, I know Allison and Natalie in the sense that we chat via email and I read their blogs and I would feel comfortable allowing either to stay at my place without worrying that they were really axe-murders. I know these strange intimate details from reading their blogs and yet, we all collectively admit, we don't really know each other with the exception of those who climb through the computer screen into our real lives--such as the TOOTPU women for me.
There are the primary mourners--the parents--and there are the secondary mourners--their friends and family. And then there are the rest of us--the tertiary mourners who simply don't know what to do with these huge emotions we feel at hearing such terrible news except to write it out in a blog post, place a candle on the sidebar, send a letter through the mail, make a donation in someone's name.
How can we not cry or feel quiet in the face of such tremendous grief? I think it not only comes from transporting ourselves to that terrible space; testing out the grief on our own life, feeling for a moment how it would feel to be the carrier of such horrific events (because we do that instinctively--it is why we stare at car accidents, I think we're trying to take in the details so we can paint an accurate mental image of our own personalized imaginary car accidents) but also truly a collective heart. When you care enough to take the time to read the story, to commit yourself to reading post after post (or, in the case of McCracken's book, page after page), you come to a place of true affection. And it breaks my heart to think that someone I wished well did not receive my cosmic request.
What can I say about McCracken's book except to say that it was gorgeous. It literally ached. It was beautiful. It hit its mark perfectly--to show a happy life where someone is also missing. And it made me feel incredibly quiet for her.
It is the next selection for the Barren Bitches Book Club. The sign-up post is below this one, so please scroll down if you wish to join along. Safety in numbers and this is definitely a book that benefits from reading it together rather than alone.
What are your thoughts on tertiary mourning? What is the place of the tertiary mourner? As someone grieving, how do you view the tertiary mourners?