A bereaved mother finds healing at her child’s graveside in this debut memoir of grief and consolation.
After burying her 19-year-old daughter, the author, a professor of business ethics, visited her grave every day for a year and a half. The ritual gave expression to her deep sadness—visits sometimes ended with her sobbing—but as time went on, it also helped her gain perspective and a measure of comfort after her loss. The Mesa, Arizona, cemetery where Claire Elizabeth is interred turned out to be a rather lively place: Jennings met and bonded with other parents and grandparents of lost children; received advice from the sympathetic, seen-it-all gravediggers, whom she dubbed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern after the hapless henchmen in Hamlet; examined the quirky culture of grave decorations, which ran the gamut from wreaths and wind chimes to model trucks and votive Bud Lights; took in a raucous, dancing Tongan funeral; and communed with a Mexican-American clan who gathered for a weekly barbecue at the grave of a 12-year-old boy. “The cemetery,” Jennings writes, “unconventional though it may have been, became my coping mechanism, my counseling, my psychotropic medication, and all-in-one-form of extreme therapy.” Interspersed among the cemetery scenes is a delicate, fragmented portrait of Claire, a profoundly disabled woman with the mental development of an infant whose seemingly weightless existence left a lasting impression on her family. Jennings’ search for meaning in her experience draws on an eclectic array of thinkers, including Thomas Jefferson, C.S. Lewis, the book of Job, Mormon spiritual writers, and Mick Jagger. In this luminous memoir, she looks for a middle ground between the stoicism of the prophet Ezekiel, who buried his wife at night and returned to duty in the morning, and the paralyzing sorrow of Dickens’ Miss Havisham, who spends a lifetime in seclusion after getting stood up at the altar. Jennings finds and conveys it in prose that is sensitive and deeply felt but also laced with good sense and humor.
A fine, moving meditation on mourning and the wisdom it brings to the living.