Crocker’s memoir about her decision to disinter the coffin where she buried her husband’s letters 40 years earlier, after his death in Vietnam.
In 1969, when Crocker (The Secret Life of Louisa May Alcott, 2013) was 23, her husband Dave was killed in the Vietnam War. They had been married for three years. Distraught, the widow decided that she would not bury his remains but scatter his ashes on the north face of the Eiger, a difficult slope Dave had longed to climb. She placed his letters and photographs, her wedding dress and his Army uniform inside his coffin. The funeral director told her, “Just remember you can’t dig this up. This is permanent.” Crocker was glad to let these memories rest for four decades, until, she writes, “I simply changed my mind.” In 2011, Crocker had the coffin disinterred. She describes this process in the first chapter but leaves readers on the brink of discovering what was inside until the book’s final pages. Since the intervening chapters don’t quote from any of those letters, the final revelation may be anticlimactic. The real focus isn’t on the drama of disinterment but on Crocker’s buried memories, too painful to look at for so many years. With thoughtfulness and grace, she reconstructs the young woman she was (and the family she came from), how she met Dave, what kind of man he was—universally admired and beloved, according to all who served with or met him—being a young military wife, early widowhood, the experience of grief and how she slowly recovered. Her decades-later camaraderie with Dave’s fellow soldiers becomes especially healing. Crocker turns a nice phrase; she says after her husband’s funeral, “The house was jammed with sadness, packed solid with the smother of something terrible.” Some moments (opening the coffin, arriving at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial), however, are elongated in a way that doesn’t create suspense, just impatience.
A moving exploration of widowhood.