I just finished reading Claire Bidwell Smith’s memoir, The Rules of Inheritance. I read it straight through in two days—a feat which rarely happens anymore in my hectic life. This is even more incredible because the book was not a thriller, but a story of grief and loss. In a nutshell: Claire is fourteen when both her parents are diagnosed with cancer. By the time she is 25, they are gone.
Her mother is 40 when Claire is born, and dies when Claire is a freshman in college. Although my parents are still very much alive, I was 40 when my daughter was born, so I wondered how Claire’s mother felt, how I would feel if I were facing death while my child was still a teen. Katie has autism and I’m a single mom, so I couldn’t help but feel the stakes were higher, would always be higher.
At least Claire was a bright, articulate woman. At least Claire was capable of living on her own. At least Claire had a father….
I caught myself mid-thought. For some reason we tend to see grief as a competition. We try to rank it and measure it. Whose is worse, and by extension, more worthy?
Yes, it would be awful if I died and left Katie alone. But this doesn’t negate the fact that Claire Bidwell Smith, an only child, lost her mother at 19 and her father at 25, which is an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. So why compare?
The thing I learned after eight years of infertility, two failed rounds of in vitro fertilization, one failed adoption, and an autism diagnosis is this: grief is grief. Loss comes in all shapes and sizes. The terrain of my grief is different than Claire’s but we each felt it, continue to feel its shape and texture.
There is no way to rank my losses against Claire’s, just as mine cannot be ranked against another’s. But that doesn’t mean I can’t use my experience with grief to inform my thoughts, feelings, and actions. My mother was wrong when she said I couldn’t understand how my sister felt after her miscarriage. I suspect I have a better idea than Mom ever will. I know what it means to lose the dream of a child.
I haven’t lost a parent, but I know loss is always loss, regardless of the details.
The Rules of Inheritance brought up a lot of grief and sadness for me, emotions I thought I had processed and laid to rest. Which is why, I suspect, we tend to avoid the topic of loss. It brings up stuff we’d rather forget. But if I’ve learned anything from my ex-husband it was that emotional pain doesn’t vanish if you push it away. It simply bides its time, waiting. One way or another, you’re going to feel it.
Or as I like to tell myself: the only way out is through.
So I’m giving myself permission to feel sad today because I know from experience that once I allow myself to feel painful emotions, they vanish. Like storm clouds, these feelings will blow away, leaving me basking in the warmth of a joyous and grateful sun.
Until next time,
PS–If you haven’t read The Rules of Inheritance yet, hurry up and read it. You can learn more about Claire Bidwell Smith on her website.