A nature journalist’s memoir of her husband’s battle with depression, balanced against her own discovery of the stars.
In opening, DeBlieu (Wind, 1998) reminds us that 1995 was the year when a Japanese amateur astronomer discovered the comet Hyukatake. At that same time, her mother-in-law was diagnosed with a serious case of cancer, and her husband, Jeff, was traveling back and forth between coastal North Carolina and his mother’s home in Mississippi. We learn a bit of the history of their courtship, when both were reporters in Oregon, and of DeBlieu’s first impressions of Jeff’s family, a colorful bunch of southerners. We also learn that Jeff’s mother suffered from depression and had even been hospitalized for it. And as his mother’s cancer later progressed, Jeff’s own stress began to show. But the comet and the stars also had a powerful emotional effect on DeBlieu. Previously, she’d barely known the names of three or four constellations, but now she began to go out at night with binoculars and look up at the sky, almost overcome by its beauty and mystery. The narrative of her growing knowledge of the stars and of the history of astronomy alternates with Jeff’s story, which entered a crisis stage after his mother’s death. Apparently small events ignited arguments, and the couple’s young son was caught in the middle. Eventually, Jeff’s work began to suffer. Given a choice between resigning and taking medical leave, he chose the latter. As he recovered, DeBlieu built a metaphorical bridge between her own growing understanding of the stars and her understanding of the depths of the human mind. With the arrival of Hale-Bopp in 1998, she and her husband celebrated his emergence from depression.
While the connections here between astronomy and psychology are ultimately subjective, its emotional message comes through: well written, often moving.