Wild: Book vs Film & How I Feel About It

I’m not sure but I think I’m excited about the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild. The official trailer was released today. I read Wild when it first came out two years ago, when my mother was very ill in ICU and finished it shortly before her death. In  spite of all the turmoil that was going on in my life at the time (or maybe because of it), I couldn’t put this book down. It wasn’t as much the story of her grueling hike along the Pacific Crest Trail that held me spellbound as it was the sharing of her life experiences, the exploration of the issues that led her to hike the trail in the first place. It was the memories and stories of her relationship with her mother who died of cancer and how her illness and death devastated her. Just like the illness and death of my mother was devastating me. I’d never before read a book that I identified with so strongly at exactly the right time in my life that I needed it. This book was so special to  me at the time that I wanted to keep it secret. I didn’t want to share it with anyone because it held meaning and words and feelings that I felt deep inside and that I didn’t want to share with anyone. It was like Cheryl was talking through my mouth and I wanted this book to be mine alone. Have you ever felt like that? At the same time, I wanted everyone I loved to read it and see it for the exceptionally insightful collection of writing that meant so much to me. This book and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking helped me through a dark time and both will always be special to me.

But, the book flew into the world and was discovered and read by thousands of people who love it as much as I do. People who found mutual experiences and feelings with the writer, just like I did. On December 2 the  film will be released and I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch it. I have my translation of what this book means to me, the memories of how this book helped me. I don’t think I want my experience of this book to be  influenced by someone’s movie interpretation. I’m not ruling it out completely – I plan to research how much input Cheryl had in the making of the movie, then I’ll decide. The story is a powerful and cleansing one, a story that has the potential to change the course of people’s mind-set. I hope the movie lives up to the book.

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A Reminder of What Was Lost….

Losing my mom at the age of 64 six years ago was the most difficult thing I have ever been through. It all seems rather unfair to me that she was taken at such a young age and I feel like I have lost my best friend, confidant and mentor. By nature, mothers and daughters have a special, unbreakable bond with each other and my mom was simply AMAZING.

I miss talking to her every day and I miss getting random phone calls from her to just “check in.” As in most families, especially in the south, my mom was the glue that kept everyone together. Over the past 6 years, our family has changed so much since she passed.

At first we rallied together to try to get through the hurt of losing her and the losses of our family homes in this new version of our life we were still adjusting to post-Katrina. Today, our family has drifted apart and has turned into something I don’t even recognize. I’ve tried to fill her shoes to be that person to keep our family close like we used to be, but there’s just too much resistance and I can’t bring everyone together like she could. I know she is watching over us and I would guess that she is probably very hurt to see that things just aren’t the way they used to be.

My kids are the youngest in our family and I often feel like they missed the amazing opportunity of getting to know their grandmother the way I knew her. My son was only 4 when she died and he doesn’t remember her other than through the photos, home videos and stories that we have shared with him and this hurts me more than anything.  My daughter was very close to my mom – she was only 9 years old when she died and I don’t think she has recovered from losing her either.  Like most grandmothers, my mom had a way to make each grandchild feel like they were special and that they were loved. I know my daughter misses that feeling and I just wish my son was able to experience it longer.

Today as I reflect on the past six years without my mom, I realize that no matter when this inevitable day would have happened…the result would be the same for me – I miss her every minute of every day. We shared a very close bond and losing a parent, especially your mom, is the hardest thing in the world. So, whenever I hear my friends talk about how much of a pain their mom is being – I remind them that life is short – whatever you do – please give your mom a big hug and tell her how much you love her as often as you can. Don’t fight over the petty things…they don’t matter. Spending quality time with your mom = PRICELESS.

There are reminders, signs if you believe in them, of her every day. From the yellow butterflies that I see following me along the path to work, or the images of giraffes that I spot in random places and then there are the times when I look at the clock the same time almost every day that I like to think is her way of telling me “I’m still with you.” Not everyone believes in life after death but this is a discussion we had several years before she died and she knows I’m a believer.

Clearing Out the Stuff

If you’re of a certain age it’s inevitable that you’ll face the unpleasant task of cleaning out your parent’s stuff. My father-in-law passed away in 2010 and my mother-in-law has been in a nursing home for a few years now – visited daily (sometimes twice) by my husband and I. The home where my husband grew up in Mississippi, the home that was built by his grandparents back in the 30’s, has been vacant over 7 years now but is now being renovated by my sister whose daughter will be living there while she attends school. A house that’s been vacant for that many years suffers from being empty, holding nothing more than memories and deteriorating furniture. Cleaning out a home that held three generations of family, and the precious keepsakes collected throughout those years, can bring forth some surprising and heartrending mementos. You get a glimpse of moments frozen in time through newspaper clippings and letters and it gives you a completely new view of those you thought you knew well. It makes you realize how much you really don’t know about those you hold most dear. And it’s sad, in a way. It’s sad that you didn’t hear those stories or see those black and white photos when memory was still clear and words still coherent. It’s also gives you a kind of creepy feeling, a feeling of being a voyeur, that you’re invading their privacy even though it’s done with respect and love.

In my last post, I talked about my mother’s death. We haven’t gone through her things yet and I don’t know when we will but it’s something I dread, really. What do you do with your own mother’s personal items? The clothing that you remember her wearing, the shoes, the jewelry she loved so well. The makeup and toiletries she packed in the little bag she took with her to the hospital was finally, tearfully, dispersed by my sister weeks after her death. And just a week or so ago my dad found something very, very precious that she had kept hidden for years that none of us knew anything about. What does one do with such personal and sacred things? Almost all of us have things in our lives that we never share with anyone else – the very essence of our beings. Finding the sacred things of someone’s life after death is a feeling that can not even be put into words. Sifting through a life’s privacy is unsettling and emotional.

I haven’t spent a night at my mother’s house since her funeral. I’ve been home but I’ve stayed with my sister. Is that wrong? I don’t know. I only know it’s really, really hard to be in my parent’s house now with all the reminders of my mother everywhere around. I don’t want her things to disappear but I don’t want to see them, either. I want to touch her clothes, hold her hairbrush, breathe her perfume. But in another way I don’t want to.

I want to pretend she’s still up there in Mississippi and I can pick up the phone and call her whenever I want. But I can’t.

I apologize for being so obsessed but writing helps.

Mamma

It’s 1:48 in the morning and I woke up thinking about mamma again. I got up, drank some water and turned on the laptop and came across this piece by Jarvis DeBerry. For the last, oh, two or three days my mamma has weighed heavy on my mind. She died in June and the road has been rocky ever since. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of her with love, loss, recriminations, regret and desperation. I don’t talk about it much but it eats at my solar plexis like a savage animal some days and I hang on by concentrating on the goodness of her spirit and the hope of reunion in whatever world is out there for us after we leave this one. Jarvis’ words about his mother was a bit of a balm on the open sore of my mothers death and a realization that this is a universal experience in life, one we all must face one day. Your mother is a primal part of your life, like it or not, and when she’s gone a part of you dies too. It’s that simple.

Last night, I sat down just before bed and this came pouring out:

Train 59, City of New Orleans

Now every time I hear that Nora Jones
song, I think of leaving you
alone in a room crowded with
ministering hands and hanging
bags of life sustaining liquid

while outside the window a
bald eagle’s nest in a leafless
cypress tree didn’t amaze me
a tenth as much as your strength
but it’s beauty reminded me

of you so with cloudy eyes I had
to leave my seat in the midst of a
boisterous family, I couldn’t
pretend to be friendly or even be
civil when my entire being wanted
to be with you

again in the kitchen watching you
mix up cornbread and stir the beans
and, later, watching a marathon of
American Pickers on TV.
Something we’ll never do together
ever
again.

I know it will take a while to come to terms with mamma’s death. I know that. But will the ache ever go away?