The more depressing, the better. When I read cheerful things, they just made me sad. But a shattering book like Continental Drift by Russell Banks, which my mom and I read when she was dying, makes me feel better. Banks chronicles the deterioration of the life of a very flawed but sympathetic man who moves from New England to Florida with his family, and he tells in tandem the story of the horrific trials of a Haitian refugee seeking a better life for herself, her infant and her nephew. Just thinking about that book and those characters reminds me of how much I have compared with so many others in this country and around the world.
Everyone experiences loss differently, and the last thing people need when they are in terrible pain is to feel that they are doing something wrong because they can’t figure out a way to make themselves feel better. Remembering that sometimes nothing helps can stop you from blaming yourself in the middle of your grief.
A Private Eulogy
I love to remember stories (especially funny ones) about Mom from my childhood and to reflect on her accomplishments as an educator and a refugee advocate, and to remember advice she gave me (like keeping presents in a present drawer, so you’ll always have nice things to give people). You can write a eulogy at any time —even years later. And it doesn’t matter if you’re ever asked to deliver it in public or if you ever post it anywhere.
My mother made lists all her life. I’ve always done the same. And my first item on each day’s list is this: Wake up. If I can check that off, I’ve already done something and can get on with the business of living and trying to honor the memory of those I love who are no longer here.
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