A resonant memoir of the ways untimely good–byes echo through the years by a writer who has considered every nuance of grief.
At age fourteen, Claire Bidwell Smith–an only child– learned that both of her parents had cancer. The fear of becoming a family of one before she came of age compels Claire to make a series of fraught choices, set against the glittering backdrop of New York and Los Angeles–and the pall of regret. When the inevitable happens, and Claire is alone in the world, she is inconsolable at the revelation that suddenly she is no one’s special person. It is only when Claire eventually falls in love, marries, and becomes a mother that she emerges from the fog of grief.
Defying a conventional framework, this story is told using the five stages of grief as a window into Smith’s experience. As in the very best memoirs, the author’s powerful and exquisite writing renders personal events into universal experience.
Claire Bidwell Smith is a Los Angeles—based writer and editor. She writes for The Huffington Post, Blackbook, Yoga Journal, Chicago Public Radio, and the award–winning blog clairebidwellsmith.com.
Writing this book was definitely a step in my grieving process. Before this version I wrote two other versions which were, in fact, much more a part of the grieving process. I worked out a lot of feelings and emotions in those drafts, and writing them helped me achieve the perspective I was able to have in this version. At times it was very challenging to relive some of the moments in my life that I wrote about. I found myself crying in coffee shops a lot! I don’t really have many regrets about the decisions I’ve made in my life. I feel that I’ve really come to terms with how and why I made those decisions and have been able to forgive myself for a lot of the sad moments.
You’re a mother yourself now. Has motherhood changed the way you think about your own mother? Your father? Are there any aspects of parenthood in particular you think you might have approached differently had you not lost your own parents at such a young age?
Becoming a mother changed everything I thought I knew about my parents. The act of becoming a parent myself both sharpened the pain of losing my own parents and also softened it. In some ways it has been more painful to realize exactly how much I lost, now that I know how much I love and give to my daughter. But at the same time, I’ve been given back my parents. I hear them every day in my voice and actions as I interact with my child, and I catch constant glimpses of what my early years with my parents must have been like. Over all, it’s been incredibly healing to become a mother. Because of the loss of my parents I am very present to the time I have with my daughter and husband, and for that, I am grateful.
What made you decide to structure this book nonlinearly?
I wanted to write a book about loss and grief that would be helpful to others who were experiencing something similar. In my line of work as a therapist, clients often approach me about the five stages. They have a lot of questions and concerns about how they are working through them. I wanted to illustrate exactly how fluid the five stages of grief are. They are meant as guides, not laws. A grieving person may experience all the stages, or just one. The feelings and emotions may not arrive in an orderly fashion, yet so many times people are thrown off by this. I thought that by using my own experience as an example it would be the most effective way for people to realize that there is no right way to grieve.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on a book about the afterlife. I’m on a personal exploration to figure out what I believe happens next. From psychic mediums and rabbis to past–life therapists and near–death survivors, I am delving heavily into the realm of the other side. It’s fascinating so far!