This is a lovely intimate video: a young man talks about who his grandmother is and what she has meant to him – while he makes her casket. “The doing of it was all about our relationship. I am kind of a creation of her through my mother, and this casket is a creation of mine. I want to be a worthy diplomatic of her DNA.”
The debate over Harper Lee’s recently published Go Set a Watchman novel continues. HarperCollins reports it is the fastest selling book in their company’s history, yet one bookstore has said it will accept refunds from buyer’s who agree the unedited manuscript should never have been published.
For those who are not informed because they had better things to do: Quick Synopsis of Mockingbird and Watchman
If you haven’t followed the literary debate, Harper Lee is the author of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. The book later became an award-winning movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus, a rural Southern lawyer who defends a black man against unjust charges of rape.
Atticus’s daughter, Scout, is nine years old in Mockingbird, and lives through vicious attacks on the family because of her father’s decision to defend the black man. Watchman opens with a 26 year old Scout taking a train south to visit Atticus, now 72 years old. Much to her surprise, Scout soon learns her father has always been a bigot. The revelation shatters her image of her father and the book moves on from there.
The loss of respect for Harper Lee and her wishes
The first level of debate over the 60 year old manuscript started in February of this year. Was it an unedited first draft or a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird? And why did Harper Lee give permission for it to be published? None of the questions are likely to be resolved by Harper Lee.
Lee is an 89 years old woman who has suffered a stroke and is blind and deaf. She lives in assisted living. And when healthy she never wavered: she refused to publish another book! Those who know Lee doubt she is even aware of the press release written over her signature. Newsweek’s headline was “Friends Say Harper Lee Was Manipulated.”
Suffice to say “follow the money” and you will find out just how Go Set a Watchman came to your local bookstore.
(This betrayal reminds me of a similar circumstance: Mother Teresa’s wrote about the absence of any sense of God in the final 50 years of her life. The letters were understood to be confidential, and she requested they be destroyed. The Catholic Church ignored her wishes and decided the letters belonged to them, and not Mother Teresa – thus the book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: the Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta was published.)
Will the real Atticus please stand up!
If the debate had not shifted to whether Atticus was really the Mockingbird hero or the Watchman bigot, I would not have one day blurted out “Why can’t Atticus be a hero and a bigot?”
Within minutes memories of my family’s relationship with race surfaced.
The only living creatures of color in my hometown were the crows
No Blacks lived in my hometown.
My family said a black family moved into town one afternoon, and a group of men visited after sundown urging them to leave by morning. And they did. I wouldn’t surprise me if money changed hands. Bryan was a wonderful white utopia that somehow managed to accept one Hispanic family. But the upshot was we were white and we were going to stay white.
Shifting from “what was” to “what will be”
Stroebe and Schut define grieving as a process of “oscillating between stepping back into yearning for the past, and stepping forward to construct a future.” Dominique Browning refers to this as a time of alternating between “holding on and hiding, and holding on and seeking.”
In any case, it involves a kind of rocking movement, similar to how you would free your car when one of your tires sinks deep into mud or snow. As you shift gears from reverse into forward, rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, you finally gain traction and are out of the hole—only to realize you that you have little idea of where you are going. However, the lack of a destination is often less uncomfortable than the fear that you are leaving your loved one behind.
Who are you to become
A woman in class once commented, “There was a time when I couldn’t imagine feeling alive again, and now I freak out when I realize I haven’t thought of my partner for a couple of days.” This response is not unusual; some people say they prefer the pain of grief over the uneasiness and apprehension that comes from starting over.
Guest contributor: Lyn Prashant, PhD FT
My beloved sister Donna was a gentle, loving, caring soul. She was my trusted confidant, my witness, my cheerleader, and my best friend. She died September 6, 2002, at age 49.
Donna was born three-and-a-half years after me, and from that time on she was there for me, and I for her. We were giddy and vulnerable with each other. I remember walking down the street with her, holding her hand, thinking about how lucky I was to have her as my very own sister. Our commitment and sense of knowing one another was astounding. A glance into her eyes affirmed: “She was both my sister and my best friend.”
When Donna was 36, she received the diagnosis of breast cancer. I had already lost my young husband to cancer, so the words sent shock waves through me again. Since the death of my husband, Mark, in 1984, I had embarked on a path of healing that involved “making peace with my own grief.” Stephen Levine, author of Who Dies? states, “we can be available to others in their grief to the extent that we know our own.” This was certainly a stunning way for me to assess how well I had transformed my grief over the loss of my husband.
“Be Responsible TO me… NOT for me.”
I remember feelings of disbelief at the sound and meaning of the doctor’s words, the physical sensation of numbness and my inability to think clearly. Later, when we went to have lunch, Donna looked into my eyes and asked: “Lyn, as my older sister, can you be my advocate? Please understand, I do not need you to be in charge of me. I need you to hear me and give me feedback.”
She then added, “What I really need is for you to be responsible TO me…NOT for me.”
Doing Things on a Want To, Choose To, Like It, Love It Basis
If you reflect back on when you felt stuck and in despair, you were likely being challenged by loss. Whether it is the loss of innocence, friendship, employment, a major relationship, or a dream—the impact can be significant.
The worst loss you can experience as you age, however, is the loss of your sense of self—the inability to see who you are outside of your circumstances. I am not talking about your ego-driven identity, but who you are without your roles and personal bells and whistles.
What is your perception of aging?
Those shoes “above” are my mothers.
She wore them in 1917, two years before her father fell ill after inhaling hay dust during “haymaking season.” He died of pneumonia two weeks later. The death was not unusual as penicillin was yet to be discovered. What was unusual was my grandmother putting my 4-year old mother on her father’s bed and telling her she that she could make him well.
Obviously she failed.
Every once in a while we feature someone else’s writing, and are pleased to share Deirdre Sullivan’s thoughts on why we should always “go to the funeral.”
ALWAYS GO TO THE FUNERAL
by Deirdre Sullivan
I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that.
The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old fifth grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal. “Dee,” he said, “you’re going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family.”
So my dad waited outside while I went in. It was worse than I thought it would be: I was the only kid there. When the condolence line deposited me in front of Miss Emerson’s shell-shocked parents, I stammered out, “Sorry about all this,” and stalked away. But, for that deeply weird expression of sympathy delivered 20 years ago, Miss Emerson’s mother still remembers my name and always says hello with tearing eyes.