One-Minute Book Reviews

October 24, 2006

9/11 Widows Learn to Think About the Unthinkable

Filed under: Memoirs — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:34 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

First came tragedy. Then came the people who told them, “It could be worse.”

Love You, Mean It: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Friendship. By Patricia Carrington, Julia Collins, Claudia Gerbasi, and Ann Haynes with Eve Charles. Hyperion, 320 pp., $23.95.

Love You, Mean It came out just before the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, so you might be tempted to view it as strictly a post-mortem on that tragedy. It works much better as memoir of traumatic loss, that unique form of grief that occurs when you have no time to prepare emotionally for a death.

The authors of Love You, Mean It are all intelligent professional women widowed by the attacks. So it’s surprising that they have so little to say about subjects that have preoccupied some of the other victims’ families: the rescue efforts by police and fire departments, the financial settlements offered by the Victim Compensation Fund, the future memorial at Ground Zero.

Instead they focus on the brutal cost of losing a spouse even when you have money and the world’s sympathy. Pattie Carrington kept her alarm clock set for two years to six a.m., “the same as it was on the morning of September 11.” Julia Collins sat in her husband’s closet, “just to be near the smell of clothes that had touched his body.” Claudia Gerbasi heard that people had found safety in the shopping center under the towers and convinced herself that her husband had made it to the Duane Reade drugstore “and could survive a week on Oreos and Diet Coke.” Ann Haynes had what she calls “a mini-breakdown.”

Anyone has lost a relative to a sudden and violent death will believe these stories and the catalog of thoughtless comments the women heard, which ranged from patronizing (“You’re going to be okay”) to cruel. Gerbasi left a doctor of eight years who told her: “It could be worse – you could be thirty-nine and fat with shingles.”

Love You, Mean It lacks the artistry of Ruth Coughlin’s Grieving: A Love Story (HarperPerennial, 1994) and Lynne Caine’s Widow (Bantam, 1987), partly because of an inelegant structure jerrybuilt for four points of views. Even so, it has moments approaching poetry in the observations of Carrington, the most thoughtful and introspective of the group. One night she sees a crescent moon and imagines it to be the initial of her lost husband, Caz, who is communicating with her though it. Later she thinks of him as she plants blue lobelias at their beach house. “My life here was continuing,” she says,” always bittersweet, always a modified version of what it had been.”

Best line: “The longing doesn’t go away. There will always be loss written into our hearts. But we have come a great distance – the pain is finally beginning to cool. It lives on a deeper level now, like strata in rock, not visible on the surface, but always there, keeping us grounded, giving us the stability to stand taller.”

Worst line: “Ann and Ned discovered that they had another mutual friend in common.” Lucky they didn’t meet through one of those mutual friends they didn‘t have in common.

Editor: Leslie Wells

Recommended if … you’re grieving for someone who died a sudden, traumatic death.

Published: September 2006 www.loveyoumeanit.com

Posted by Janice Harayda

(c) 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

2 Comments »

  1. Bereavement and widowhood are desperately difficult.

    You’re entirely right, as well, that people will for some reason insist on saying exactly the wrong thing.

    ‘Don’t worry – you’ll get over it.’

    ‘At least you’ve got the children.’

    and

    ‘Wow, what a lovely day. It just makes you feel so glad to be alive.’ Yes, I remember that one the most, and it really made me laugh. I just wasn’t sure if I should cry first.

    Comment by Roads — November 5, 2007 @ 4:21 pm | Reply

  2. Some people seem to mean so well, yet get it so wrong. The 9/11 widows say in “Love You, Mean It” that their husbands’ bodies hadn’t even been recovered before people began to use a variation on one of the lines you mentioned by saying, in effect, “At least you have your beautiful children” (who had just lost their father). It must have been to painful to hear …

    Ruth Coughlin mentions other insensitive comments in her “Grieving: A Love Story” (a widely praised memoir of the death of her husband, Bill, a judge). Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — November 5, 2007 @ 8:29 pm | Reply


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