Friday, December 18, 2009

In Lieu of Flowers: A Conversation for the Living by Nancy Cobb

I lost my kid brother to esophageal cancer recently, and have been in the process of grieving. A friend of mine suggested this book. As the quote from Wally Lamb on the cover of this book says, "This meditation on grieving is personal and persuasive--sustenance for the mind and the soul." And what a lovely book it is. Cobb, a former public radio host and actress, has lost her father to suicide, her mother to Alzheimer's, and a close friend to cancer. In this little gem she shares her encounters and observations in her quest to understand death and dying. Have you lost someone near and dear to you? Are you struggling to comprehend and carry on? Then this book may be just the tonic you need.

As the author says "The crossroads at the end of life--the 'divine intersections' where the living meet the dying and the dying meet the dead--are difficult to discuss, perhaps because we are afraid of the unknown, perhaps because we don't want to sound morbid or New Agey...If we're all going to die, why can't we talk about death?...Death is as sacred and inevitable, as ordinary and extraordinary, as messy and complex, as birth, and yet end-of-life care in America is only just catching up with the natural birthing methods introduced to the delivery room thirty years ago. Why, has it taken us so long to handle our departures as lovingly as we have handled our arrivals?"

Now, if this description hits home, you'll see why this little book just might be the solace for your soul that you need: "After experiencing the death of someone you love, you join a rank-and-file whose number multiplies hourly. Soon you learn, as others have before you, that perspective shifts erratically. Weeks pass slowly. You wonder if that bone-deep physical ache in the center of your chest will ever go away, of if you'll ever finish a paragraph, laugh with abandon, or look at family photographs without falling apart. If your loved one died suddenly you will search your memory obsessively, going over and over the last exchange of words and the predominant feelings between you that day. If you had plenty of time to say goodbye, you'll still wonder if you got it right. Regret is grief's handmaiden. Learning to focus on the life, rather than the death, of a person you have loved and lost requires an enormous emotional effort. You distract easily. You teeter constantly. Car accidents and falls down stairs often occur during periods of mourning. Because you have been cracked open by your experience, imbalance is often a result."

Grieving is part of living. If we live and love, we will grieve. This amazing little book lets you know that you are not alone. In sharing her own experiences with us, Nancy Cobb engages in a longer conversation about loss, encouraging us to accept and honor those we have lost by exploring our feelings rather than avoiding them and in the process confronting and accepting death itself.

After Nancy's mother died, she found the following passage tucked away among her papers. It was written by Henry Scott Holland, a professor of divinity at Oxford University:

"Death is nothing at all--I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I, and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way you always used. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without the ghost of a shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant...there is absolutely unbroken continuity. I am waiting for you--somewhere near just around the corner. All is well."
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