The Memoir Of A Beloved

The death of a beloved is an amputation.
~ C. S. Lewis ~

I’m fortunate. Not many writers are in a position to have two books launched at about the same time. While things are being worked out with Omonomany Publishing for final publication of my WWII fictionalized biography, The Third Reich’s Last Eagle (some early readers wanted maps included in order to follow the advances and subsequent retreats of Germany’s Wehrmacht), I’m the daddy of a memoir.

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The memoir, In This Love Together – Love, Failing Limbs, and Cancer, is perhaps a final honoring of Becca, my deceased wife. A brave soul, she subjected herself to too many radiation treatments of her squamous cell carcinoma for later chemo treatments to do her any good. She lived for many months with a feeding tube and tracheostomy in order to stay alive. A most giving person, she made cookies for the cancer doctors and technicians in her last months.

One day she stood before the kitchen counter where we generally prepared food, intent on her batter, occasionally rocking side to side. She hadn’t fallen yet, but I knew it was coming.

“You don’t have to do that,” I said. “For crying out loud, they don’t expect cookies from you.”

“I know.” She didn’t turn, kept working her dough.

“Okay, so why do it?”

“I want to.”

For a second she swayed like a pine on a breezy day. “You okay?”

“I’m okay.”

“What can I do to help.”

“Nothing.”

I sighed, softly, so she wouldn’t hear it and claim petulance on my part. “Just be careful. Sit if you need to.”

“I will.”

The oncologist who had urged her into a second round of radiation, the radiation that proved insufficient to stop her cancer, but which had destroyed the surrounding tissue, graciously accepted her portion of the cookies, along with a scarf Becca had woven. After she died, I received a too-late card of thanks from this doctor.

Following Becca’s death it was my turn: heart surgery, followed by replacement of a failed knee replacement, and several months of physical therapy, which did little to aid the leg, which had atrophied in the interim. Romance entered my life again, then fled rather than see me through my mourning. And just as engineering work had gotten me through an earlier divorce, writing – this memoir, in particular – got me through the long months of loss.

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I had an odd bill of hers to accommodate as the months passed, but the nettlesome item was returning again and again to the cemetery management to have them honor their agreement to put Becca’s death date on her gravestone. It took two-and- a-half years to accomplish that, and as I stood before the completed gravestone, I had an odd realization. Somehow the fates had aligned to free me from my mourning.

I’ve heard from older, wiser persons that once you love someone, that love never goes away, and now I know the truth of that. But love does strange, counterintuitive things, too. Somehow, standing before her grave, I could swear she was whispering to me that it was time to move on.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

 

Bowing To Anger

 Creative Nonfiction Magazine – Issue 43 – Fall/Winter 2011

 

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image via creativenonfiction.org


On the whole, I like what editor Lee Gutkind does with this magazine. It’s a good forum for beginning nonfiction writers as well as the more experienced, and Gutkind’s staff selects well.

With this issue, however, an issue devoted largely to anger, hate, and revenge, I found myself skimming. Most of these well-written, inventive essays have to do with personal anger and hate, particularly ire at the most obvious objects: a divorced mate, a politician of an opposite persuasion, and the like. This sort of self-absorptive writing has been a broadly running theme in memoirs and other forms on nonfiction for at least a decade, and have rightly begun to be decried in recent years.

I could excuse it here as an editor floundering for theme had not Gutkind himself decided to grind an axe in his lead column, an axe the bared personal affront at an action taken by the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) that is essentially one more shot fired in an ongoing tug of war between the academic perspective on creative writing and the academically-related business end of the publishing industry.

Gutkind’s sniping here serves no purpose other than to make this literary divide more hostile. And this is essentially the problem I have with the essays published here. You can hate your ex-spouse, but does that resolve anything in your personal life? You can remain angry at Dick Cheney, but does that help create an environment for national political healing?

The closest to a constructive essay regarding anger and hate here is one by Chester F. Philips entitled, “Heroes and Consequences: On Masculinity and Redemptive Violence in American Culture.” Philips ends his essay depicting a poignant scene from the Bosnian war – preceded by this:

            “In turning from vengeance to care, I could connect with the real source of my hurt…”

We live in a time of challenging problems worldwide, and many among us wish to take various advantages from this state by causing more confusion and division. Our indulging in anger and hate, even in the face of such leveraging and fear-mongering, only serves to throw another log on that fire. We have to be big enough to see beyond our personal needs, preferences, and ideologies, our mistakes and limitations, to appreciate the situations of those whose life perspective is different from ours.

Creative writing can have a hand in oiling such troubled waters. It’s true that creative writing is best when it simply asks the right questions, not when it attempts to provide answers. We readers have to be able to arrive at a composite answer to such questions from different and sometimes opposing viewpoints.  But promoting essays what wallow in one’s own emotional responses without looking for that broader perspective only inflame, not heal.

 

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