Her death still
makes me unable to lie down,
– from “Long Dark” by Marguerite Keil Flanders
All this past weekend, as I drove to Relay events and traversed a wide swath of Central Virginia in Honey the Hyundai, I listened to Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild. To say that this book is breaking me open, well, that would be putting it mildly.
As she described the death of her mother – the morphine and the mad hysteria of a placid woman made crazed by pain, I sobbed. The way her mother’s death broke her apart, took away from her the woman she once was, made her both pull away from and lean hard into the people who love her, I wept. This is it, I thought. This is me.
I don’t know what other people’s experiences of mother loss are. I don’t know the horror of a child who loses her mother or the pain of an older woman when she loses hers. I do know, of course, that those things are devastating in deep ways.
I only know what the death of my mother meant to me – a hollowing. Maybe a hallowing, too. People probably feel I should be past these waves of grief that almost knock me to my knees someday. Maybe I should, but I’m not. I’m not sure I will ever be.
So when Strayed dons a backpack that even I know is far too heavy, when she sets out on a journey for which she is completely unprepared, when she laments the raw skin and blisters and shares how she bought the wrong fuel for her camp store, I hear behind all her words, “I miss my mom.” And all that pain, all that burden is lighter than the loss of the one person who gave life a center.
I know some find her whiny and self-indulgent. I don’t. Because when you are undone by grief, you have just a couple of choices – you can wallow, sink further into it, shut down, live life smaller and smaller. Or you can don a backpack that you cannot possibly carry or buy a farm with no money and no equipment – not even a mower – and build something from your grief.
What do you think of Strayed’s memoir Wild?