Thursday, February 23, 2012

Turning Grief Inside Out - Reviewing Claire Bidwell Smith's "The Rules of Inheritance"

I have had the opportunity to participate in the BlogHer book review campaign and had the pleasure of reading "The Rules of Inheritance" by Claire Bidwell Smith. I read it cover to cover in one afternoon and am pleased to share my thoughts with you all!

The Rules of Inheritance is an honest portrayal of a girl finding her way, and her self, through grief. Bidwell Smith uses Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief to section out her memoir and organize her life events and thoughts according to the grieving process. Through denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance, Claire tells the story of a girl struggling to define herself by the loss of her mother. The chapters provide a cross-section of Claire's life and sense of self, opening rabbit-holes for the reader to gaze into. At first, this seems to chop up the narrative, bringing the reader to peer across decades of Claire's life as if through a keyhole. However, as the book progresses, there is a masterful deliberateness in Bidwell Smith's vignettes that showcase both a life of chaos and rebellion, and a childlike yearning for a mother gone. It reminds us that life, like grief, is not linear or static.

This memoir is one of the most honest accounts of a daughter's grief, at times even uncomfortable in it's bluntness. Claire expresses a revulsion for her mother's dry, gray, cracked and dying body - yet also a desire to be able to relieve her suffering. Claire at once wants to rub Vaseline on her mother's cracked lips and to run away from the sight of this dying monster. The juxtaposition of her avoidance to witness the death of her mother and her almost compulsion to witness the death of her father, maps years of growth from child to woman. In caring so carefully for her father in his final months, Claire also finally allowed herself to process the loss of her mother. Bidwell Smith's treatment of these memories is poignant, and heartbreakingly beautiful.

Claire Bidwell Smith peppers what could be a very dark and heavy memoir with lighter moments, funny anecdotes from fumbling relationships or silly mistakes that everyone experiences on their paths through life. These serve to shift the focus from death to life, to the impossibility of finding yourself when you are most lost. One night stands, failed relationships, self-loathing, anger and fear come crashing together in Claire's life just as her father is dying. It is in that death that she truly finds herself, that she stops trying desperately to define herself as different, and find sameness through bereavement.

Bidwell Smith uses the fifth and final stage of grief - acceptance - as a turning point in Claire's search for herself. In the loss of her father Claire finds a life for herself, and a way to reconcile the child, woman, mother, and orphan inside of her. This book is a beautiful portrayal of a lost girl who found womanhood by sitting with her grief. Bidwell Smith writes with a fluidity, almost conversationally, in complete thoughts and observations, yet so astoundingly real and from the heart that the reader feels like a witness to her rebirth. A must read for anyone interested in turning the inner workings of the mind inside out, and finding broken perfection within.

**This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, however the thoughts and opinions expressed within are my own**

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


It's hard to believe.
What happened to you, happened to me.

Today was just another Hallmark holiday. One I have always had a particular hatred for. Black Tuesday is what I would have called it. A day of forced romantic notions, cliche gestures and society approved affection. It has never gone well for  me, either ignored or ending very badly. Sometimes it came so thick with fake declarations that I almost choked on them, ending the night horribly with the bitter taste of almost in the back of my throat. Lies and red roses. Two things I really never had the stomach for.

But then you came crashing into my soul and turned my world upside down. On our first Valentine's Day I asked you to be my UN-Valentine. That was as far as I was willing to go. It was the first time I didn't want to claw my eyes out at the sight of pink and red hearts. But I was also very willing to keep mine under black wraps. It was before you knew how to push on my edges.

Somewhere along the line you found the door. It is hard to say whether I opened it for you, or if you tumbled into my damaged heart with your wounds bleeding. Our wounds bleeding.

I cannot say anymore that I am the woman you fell into. My perceptions have changed. I have changed. You dug up those old worry stones inside of me and gave me a locked room to examine them. You have shown me what I could never see, the value of my shattered life and the beauty in my broken-ness. That scars are not something to hide, but a map to run your fingers across. That in all of that pain, there is pleasure to be taken away. That I am not alone. And somehow, will never be again. There is a wholeness in that notion that is beyond expression.

Today we shared another rip in time, skin to skin. Our hearts beat so close to the surface now that I can see the tremors against the skin. There is no fear, only us. Wide open and heart-breakingly beautiful. Your skin smelled like spring, like the first fresh breeze on a sunny day. Like the freedom I have so desperately wanted to claim for my own. Like hope. And I cried.

Today you are my Valentine. You came to me to celebrate who we are, not some cliche ideal. You did not bring roses that I despise, you gave me boxes of my favorite coffee. You did not bring me empty verses on a cardboard promise, you spoke to the beauty that is US. I laid my hand against your chest so that I could FEEL your words reverberate inside me. Low and rich tones that hold all my tomorrows intact. We loved today like we love every day-fiercely, truly, wholly.

I am not the woman you fell into. I am a better woman for ever having you in my life. Your love has healed what I thought forever broken and made me fearless. I give to you my everything sweet man, not only on this day, but for all of my days. Until there is no more in this life, or any other.

Happy Valentine's Day my love... yesterday, today and always.