Posted by: Louise | September 29, 2010

books

I like books. I love books. We both do, K and I, and our house is filled with them – dog-eared, some dusty, some less so, some from our childhood with the pages falling out, some new ones – stories or snippets of information we plan to read or acquire some day. I have a few on the go at the side of my bed. The others, in the meantime, I pick up, look at the titles, feel the cover, wonder if they will meet some particular quest for knowledge or carry me away in their prose and then I have a little smell – you never know how the information can be absorbed.

We want our kids to like books, to love books, and so far so good. The giraffe princess devours them with an appetite I envy, an appetite neither I nor our local library can keep up with. Astro boy after a slightly slower start discovered the Beano and, after a little foray into the world of novels, decided science books were where its at for him. He is coming to the next pub quiz I go to – a veritable fountain of information, he is becoming. Apropos of nothing he announced at the dinner table tonight – You know there is no such thing as suction. It is just the air pushing in from the outside.

Little boy racer has just started school so has a way to go yet before he loses himself in novels, but the signs are there. His brother and sister laugh at his singular choice of websites – Starfall – when they are off exploring Club Penguin or Bin Weevils or Moshi Monsters, but he insistently retorts, “I like reading my ABCs!!!!

And so it isn’t surprising then that it is in books and prose and reading other people’s writing that I have found most solace since Laura came into our lives and left. A friend sent me a poem after I cried with her one day. I was pregnant with a lively Laura, but there were concerns over her health (not life-threatening) and I was worried.

The poem is by John O’Donoghue. I cried again when I read it, and read it often during my pregnancy. I never thought this poem would be the blessing we read at our darling daughter’s funeral.

Beannacht
(“Blessing”)

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Self-help books didn’t work when Laura died. I didn’t want a measure put on my grief. I didn’t want a check list of stages I would go through. This was too big to try and contain. My grief was spilling out of me at every turn in the road. Eating my dinner – tears rolling down my cheeks. Sitting in the car – tears dripping off my chin and soaking into my clothes. Reading the kids bedtime stories – taking deep breaths to try and finish the sentence before the tears began again. I didn’t want to contain my emotions or measure them against an expert opinion. I wanted to allow them and allow my beautiful buried daughter to form her own absent shape in our lives.

And then one day a fellow babylost mother recommended An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken. Reading it was like breathing for the first time in months. This was not a what-to-feel book or a how-to-be-with-your-loss book. This was a my-child-was-here-and-now-he-is-gone-and-I-am-writing-to-try-and-make-sense-of-it-all-because-it-is-too-big-to-comprehend book. I drank it in one gulp.

Then I found Glow with its heart-broken eloquence, and again and again and again cried with the relief of finding myself not alone.

But there have been surprise books, children’s books, that have spoken a truth that slipped through all the layers of Mum and wife and coping and busy and passing time to pull at my heart unbidden.

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book begins with a picture of a smiling man and the words:
This is me being sad.
Maybe you think I’m being happy in this picture.
Really I’m being sad but pretending I’m being happy.
I’m doing that because I think people won’t
like me if I look sad.

And it goes on. Ok, the title should have prepared me. I knew we were stepping into the heart territory, but so honestly, from Page 1, in a children’s book…..

Oliver Jeffer’s latest book The Heart and the Bottle reduced me to tears in the book shop:
Feeling unsure, the girl
thought the best thing was to
put her heart in a safe place.

Just for the time being.

So, she put it in
a bottle and hung it
around her neck…

and that seemed
to fix things….
at first.

Although in truth, nothing was the same.
She forgot about the stars..
and stopped taking notice of the sea.

She was no longer filled
with all the curiosities of the
world and didn’t take much
notice of anything….

other than how heavy…
and awkward the bottle had become.

But at least her heart was safe.

I think Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince has been the book to move me most, not helped by the fact I was unwittingly reading it to the Giraffe Princess as her bedtime story. It sneaked up on me, as did the tears and the strangled voice. Crying before I had even got to this point, I read:

“But all those stars are silent stars. You, though, you’ll have stars like nobody else.”
“What do you mean?”
“When you look up at the sky at night, since I’ll be living on one of them, since I’ll be laughing on one of them, for you it’ll be as if all the stars are laughing. You’ll have stars that can laugh!”
And he laughed again.
“And when you are consoled (everyone eventually is consoled), you’ll be glad you’ve known me…..”

And then I turned the page.

That night I didn’t see him leave. He got away without making a sound. When I managed to catch up with him, he was walking fast, with determination. All he said was, “Ah, you’re here.” And he took my hand. But he was anxious. “You were wrong to come. You’ll suffer. I’ll look as if I’m dead, and that won’t be true…”
I said nothing.
“You understand. It’s too far. I can’t take this body with me. It’s too heavy.”

And as I stumbled to the end of the book…..

For me, this is the loveliest and the saddest landscape in the world…. It’s here the little prince appeared on Earth, then disappeared.

These days I’m thinking about The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (and as I write this I realise I just bought myself a pair of mole coloured velvet trousers on ebay. Hmmm. I’m thinking about it more than I realised.) I haven’t blown the dust off it yet and reread the story, but this is the bit I’m remembering….

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive.

But the Skin Horse only smiled.

Is that it? Is this as real as life gets. My heart has been broken. I have wrinkles, bags under my eyes. My focus is lost. In so many ways I feel like a ghost and yet in others I feel like I am more real, more solid, more of me than I have ever been in my life .

Are there books that have surprised you, that have reached straight to your heart? I would love to hear about them……..

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Responses

  1. So much wells up when I read your posts that I hold back from commenting because the thoughts overwhelm – but I don’t want to do that.

    I want you to know that your writing is powerful and healing and meaningful, that you are enriching the lives of people far away, even people who have never met you.

    I hope to be able to express it better, and maybe someday I will – but in the meantime, THANK YOU. The world is a less lonely place, a richer place, a better place…because you are in it.

    Your Words Matter. Your baby’s life and your life matter. All of this is shared with others because you are willing to put your thoughts out where they can help those who need them most.

    I do appreciate you!

    Gratefully,

    Cathy in Missouri

    • Thank you so much Cathy.
      I sat and cried when I read your comment, as did K over my shoulder.
      Now I am stuck for words.
      Thank you
      x L

  2. This is really beautiful and seeringly painful.

  3. Thank you for your kind reply – I wasn’t expecting you to have opportunity to leave one, but it made my day. I am so glad you write here.

    I wanted to tell you, too, that on your recommendation I got Elizabeth McCracken’s book – “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.” I am pretty sure that your blog is where I first heard about it.

    I LOVE IT. Her writing reminds me of yours. You are right; that is a great book. Thank you for sharing it. I had never heard of it.

    I also passed it on to several other friends. It is amazing how much influence you can have, just by writing about your life…

    Thinking of you,

    Cathy in Missouri


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