"… you need everyone you know after a disaster, because there is not one right response. It's what paralyzes people around the grief-stricken, of course, the idea that there are right things to say and wrong things and its better to say nothing than something clumsy."
As the mother of a still-born child, Elizabeth McCracken knows about awkwardness surrounding the grieving, and in her An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir, she identifies silence as the worst response to a friend's or stranger's tragedy.
The grieving need words of solace, acknowledgement, hugs and tears. She knows now why some cultures hire professional mourners. Silence condemns. Sympathy unrestrained eases pain.
Though a well-read adult (she is a novelist) who knows the world is full of hardship, McCracken was ill-prepared for her own tragedy. (Few of us are.) She did not know how to handle the innocent questions from acquaintances, such as grocers or neighbors, "How's the baby?" She could not lie or run away. The reminders of tragedy were as plentiful as the children and pregnant women seen every time she left her house.
In An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, McCracken tells her story skillfully, gradually revealing the problems she faced, saving the most important scenes for the end. Unusual details, such as being in France at the time of her delivery and the difficulty of getting her British husband into the U.S., add to the appeal of her tale. Few readers will be untouched. We will all be better off for considering what McCracken says.
McCracken, Elizabeth. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir. Little, Brown and Company, 2008. 184p. ISBN 9780316027670.