An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination
by Elizabeth McCracken
So many people had recommended this book to me but I put off reading it for a while. I usually use reading as an escape, so to read a book on PURPOSE, when I KNOW the baby dies seemed overly grim. And yet, from the minute I started it I felt like the author knew exactly what I felt. That she was able to put into words things that I wanted to say but didn't know how to express it.
I usually skim, but this book I stopped midway and put it down. To wait and read it at a time when I could really read it- not in line waiting to get my car inspected. I knew this book was special, and I wanted to pay attention. As soon as I finished it, I want to start it again. With a highlighter to mark the parts that really speak to me.
One of my favorite parts is near the beginning. She and her husband were living in French when they found out their baby had died. They were asked if they wanted to speak to a nun. Only the word in French for 'nun' is very similar to the word for 'dwarf'. And that is what they heard- "Do you want to speak to a dwarf?" When her husband told a friend that they said "You must have thought, "That is the last thing I need!" and he answered "No, I thought I'd really like to speak to a dwarf about then. I thought it might cheer me up". They talked about how possibly every French hospital kept a supply of dwarfs on hand to speak to the patients. "The dwarfs of grief. We could see them in their apologetic smallness, shifting from foot to foot."
Someone had told her (long before their child died) that she should write a book about "the lighter side of losing a child" and she had no idea what that meant. She comes to realize that possibly what that women meant was this: 'Lighter things will happen to you... your child will still be dead.. and you will spend your life trying to resolve this". How there are moments of "odd, reliable comfort that billows up at the worst moments, like a beautiful sunset woven out of the smoke over a bombed city."
There were several parts in it that I found myself nodding and saying "Yes, that is exactly right." The part where she gets furious with movers who were supposed to come several days later but instead showed up 3 days early (my experience was with a dentist to told me I wasn't taking my dental hygeine seriously when I cancelled my appointment the day I got home from the hospital.) Talking about the "what if's" and regrets. How now that we have experienced loss we are now all related, like there is a 'family tree of grief'. You discover that you have a 'new set of relatives, people with whom you can speak in the shorthand of cousins'
I related to much of her book, and at the same time, so many things she described were not the same for me. For example, they made the decision not to have photos taken of their baby. To not give their baby a 'real' name, but instead call him always by the nickname they called him. To not use the word 'angel' when referring to their baby. That is right for them. FOR ME, I treasure the few photos I have of Gabriel, as hard as they are to look at. I am glad we named him Gabriel, although with our family we always still call him our 'baby goldbug'. And I do sometimes use the word 'angel'.
This is a wonderful book. It helps to know that I am not alone, am not crazy. Or if I am, she is too.