REVIEW: Two Mothers Bond over Grief for Lost Children

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By Daphne Abeel

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Griefland by Armen Bacon and Nancy Miller. Skirt, an Imprint of Pequot Press. 2012. 170 pp. $19.95. ISBN 978-0-7827-8084-6

 

This is a book for a select audience — parents who have lost children and who are dealing with the grieving process. The authors, Armen Bacon and Nancy Miller, each lost a child to a drug overdose. Bacon lost her son, Alex, when he was in his early 20s, after many attempts at rehab and after he had become a

father. Miller lost her daughter, Rachel, when she was in her teens, also after many attempts to save her through drug rehab programs and therapy.

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The two women were introduced to each other by a mutual friend and embarked on a bonding process that helped them both deal with their grief and create a new and important friendship. The act of sharing their experiences also led to the writing of this book.

The Griefland of the title refers to that “uncharted territory, surrounded by chaos and uncertainty.” As they say in their jointly-written introduction, “Throughout this grief journey, we’ve leaned on each other’s shoulders, borrowed makeup to cover tearstains, and stayed up into the wee hours rehashing our children’s lives. Through this unlikely pact born of tragedy, we have discovered the medicinal power of friendship.”

The book is organized around alternating chapters by each author with an introductory commentary to each chapter. When they meet, Bacon’s son has been gone for nearly five years, while Miller’s daughter has died relatively recently.

What remains somewhat obscure are the histories of Alex and Rachel, the children who are mourned. While it is clear that both families (Miller is divorced) struggled mightily with their children’s problems and addictions prior to what was, apparently, suicide in both cases, the authors provide few substantial facts that would help the reader understand why these tragic events took place. It is reasonable to assume that the mothers themselves have little insight into the causes of their children’s drug addictions.

Miller does recount the last dinner she had with her daughter before she overdosed on Christmas Day. “I … spent my last evening with Rachel. She was out of rehab, relapsing again, and we had agreed that she would not be allowed to come home until she could demonstrate she was clean for at least one year.” And thus, the reader is left to surmise that there had been multiple attempts at rehabilitation.

The focus of the book is relentlessly on the experience of loss, grief and the act of sharing grief. And there has been a certain trend in recent years, led by the well-known writer Joan Didion, to set down accounts of personal loss. Didion has published two widely-publicized books, The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, about the deaths, respectively, of her husband and daughter. This book is situated squarely in that trend.

Here is a book that may give some comfort to grieving parents and may also serve as a model for the forming of a relationship, a friendship that eases grief through sharing. It is probably not a book to be perused by the casual reader who has not experienced the loss of a child.

One can only guess, due to her name, that Armen Bacon is of Armenian descent; she does not touch on this aspect of her life in the course of this short book, although she does mention a trip to Turkey.

The goal for those who have experienced painful loss is, of course, survival and some sense of redemption, and these two women seem to be progressing towards those ends as they share not only with each other but with a broader public by giving lectures and workshops that deal with the experience of profound grief.

Towards the end of the book, they again write jointly, “We have come to believe there can be something divine, a sort of knowledge and power that has occurred with death and grief. To travel this path, to remain standing for the duration of such an extraordinary journey, is a feat of significant proportions. We are stronger than ever now. … Death, in its devastation, has forced us to re-create ourselves.”

Certainly, the purpose of the authors is to help others and the readers who seek out this book, no doubt, will welcome their solace.

Bacon is a freelance writer and motivational speaker. She also serves as administrator of communications and public relations for the Fresno County Office of Education. She resides in Fresno. Miller teaches English at the university and junior college levels. She lives in Olympia, Wash.

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