How the author and his family overcame the loss of a child.
When his 8-year-old son Owen accidentally drowned on a family rafting trip, Gerson (French Studies/New York Univ.), his wife, Alison, and remaining son, Julian, were as shocked as they were grief-stricken. Owen’s death, writes the author, was “at once a ripple in the flow of everyday life and a disruption of the entire universe.” Desperate to understand his loss, Gerson went deep inside himself and began to write while Alison externalized her grief through exercise. As he imagined Owen growing up and old, the author obsessively revisited the day of Owen’s death and the hours that preceded it, carefully skirting around the actual incident itself. The strain of his son’s death eventually caused Gerson to develop a rash and then other symptoms of physical breakdown, including bowel irritation, a hernia, prostatitis, and tinnitus. The loss affected Gerson’s relationship to Alison as well as the relationships each had to their respective parents. Needing comfort, it was as though they had “bec[o]me children again.” Yet it also brought Gerson closer to his own history as the son of an American-born Jewish man whose own family escaped the Holocaust. A trip to Belarus with his father, Berl, and son made Gerson realize that “those who had failed to save loved ones did not necessarily live in shame or guilt.” This epiphany helped him to not only look directly at Owen’s death, but also see that he was not to blame for it. Berl’s own “good death” not long afterward released Gerson from his past, which allowed him to share the words he had penned about Owen with Alison and relive the civil lawsuit that followed the tragedy. Keenly observed and deeply felt, this book is not only a powerful reflection on grief and loss, but also an intimately textured history of fathers and sons.
An unflinchingly honest, moving memoir of loss and recovery.