Two deaths inspire a moving meditation on loss.
In an affecting debut memoir, producer and journalist Levine reflects on overwhelming and protracted grief. Her beloved friend Judson succumbed to a rare, virulent cancer, and her sister Tamara, mentally ill for much of her life, committed suicide. Her computer reminds her of each “death-iversary.” Written in fragments—some as short as a phrase—that are loosely related to letters of the alphabet, the author explains, “my alphabet isn’t a history of death. It’s a collection of the things that make up loss. It is about defining the abyss.” The abyss of mourning, though, defies definition. “I’m used to stories,” Levine writes, “stories with endings, stories with stakes, stakes that I can control and manipulate.” But the story of personal grief has “no end in sight.” She remembers her friendship with Judson with warmth and joy, and his suffering haunts her: “I wonder what it was like to lose his muscle, his physical power, his privacy, his independence.” She wonders if he believed those who told him “it would be OK.” Her sister’s death reveals far different feelings: resentment, anger, and, finally, powerlessness. “Violent,” she writes: “What it feels like on the inside.” Tamara was diagnosed as psychotic and delusional, but although her erratic behavior went on for decades, her parents refused to accept that she was mentally ill. “Dealing with someone with severe mental health issues is indescribable to those who haven’t experienced it,” writes the author. “In our family, it was also indescribable to those who refused to acknowledge it or see it.” Even as a child, Levine refused any connection with her sister; as an adult, she ignored Tamara’s paranoid, incoherent outbursts and emails filled with vitriol and nastiness. Now she realizes, with regret, that Tamara “reached out for help everywhere,” but everyone had stopped listening. Levine feels “desperate for something we had together, something that would make us a ‘we,’ “struggling to find in loss more than “an endless hollow absence.”
Sensitive testimony to the arduous process of mourning.