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Pickle Me This

October 4, 2018

Notes For the Everlost, by Kate Inglis

As an adult, the very first person I ever knew who was pregnant gave birth to a stillborn baby at full term, which would forever-after colour my understanding of pregnancy and its possibilities, and this understanding would be part of my impulse for creating The M Word many years later, to integrate experiences of loss into the motherhood story. Because a baby isn’t always the outcome of that story, or even a healthy baby—at least not at first. And neither is pregnancy the only path to a person’s understanding of what a mother does and what a mother is. There are so many ways to be a mother, for better or for worse, and in Notes For the Everlost: A Field Guide to Grief, Kate Inglis writes about the hardest way, which is to be a mother for a child who is no longer here.

Now, there are several reasons why one might want to read a book subtitled “a field guide to grief.” Most obviously, if one is grieving—and Inglis has made this a practical book for such a situation, one informed by her experience of running an online forum for bereaved parents. Chapter One is titled, “The Immediate Protocol,” and the first guideline is, “Don’t apologize.” Chapter Three, “What Now,” is about finding one’s way through the first year, and it’s first sentence is, “You’ve got to get up and make breakfast.” There is good advice here, both for the bereft, but also for the people who love those who are grieving. Without being explicit, Inglis has also created a field guide for saying and doing not-terrible things around the grieving—when someone’s baby dies, don’t talk about your dead dog, please. “You will learn to surround yourself with people who understand that occasional sadness is not about them, and who never begin sentences with You should… unless they end with ...come over ’cause I just made soup.”

There’s a lot of generosity here though, toward those clumsy clods who don’t know what do say, or who say the wrong thing, who tell you that your baby’s in a better place now. Inglis writes about people whose miseries pale in comparison to hers—but also how others’ pain might make hers look slight. And what is this hierarchy anyway, and how we all takes turn being above and below. Inglis urges compassion from the grieving—for all those who are really doing their best, even when their best is awful. And there will be days when one can so generous, and other days when such generosity is not attainable, and grief is not a straight line, she writes. There is no perfect metaphor, for how it never goes away, and how it changes. She doesn’t write about “healing,” but instead about “integrating,” an ongoing process.

Another reason to read a book subtitled, “a field guide to grief,” or at least to read this one, is that because Notes for the Everlost is just an extraordinary literary creation—an engrossing and fascinating reading experience, rich with turns of phrase and imagery, as surprising and absorbing as any decent field guide should expect to be. I loved this book for its sentences and its structure, and for the harrowing, devastating story at its core, and the incredible writing, the reflection. A balance of love and anger, moving on and remembrance, holding on and letting go, living and dying, dark and light. As good as A Year of Magical Thinking, but a decade instead, what happens once the magical thinking is over, and even after that. Proof that living through tragedy is possible, even when you think you can’t or won’t. A book about death that—at its heart—is about life, and which dares to ask big questions without pretending to have all the answers.

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Mitzi Bytes

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