When I picked up Sukey Forbes’ new memoir, The Angel in My Pocket, my first thought was, “Oh, another memoir about grief.” It’s not that I don’t appreciate grief-focused memoirs. In fact, they’ve been a lifeline for me in the four years since losing my ex-fiancé. Even though my own loss was due to separation, not death, I’ve found comfort and companionship in reading about all forms of bereavement, and one of my favorite grief-focused memoirs has been Dani Shapiro’s Slow Motion, about the death of her father following an automobile accident.
However, having now come through the worst of my own mourning, I find my tastes in reading material have been shifting, and I wasn’t all that enthused at the prospect of another story of heart-wrenching pain. And so I was about to put Forbes’ memoir about the death of her six-year-old daughter back on the shelf when I read something startling. Buried in the second half of the book description–after paragraphs about Forbes’ devastating loss and her blood relationship to Ralph Waldo Emerson (who also lost a young child)–was this sentence: “The ‘afterlife’ takes on a new meaning…after Forbes seeks out a prominent medium who connects her with Charlotte on the other side.” None of my regular readers will be surprised to hear that I took the book right to the check-out line.
What I find so marvelous about Forbes’ memoir–after reading it in a single sitting–is that it is not just the story of a thoughtful, articulate woman coming to terms with losing her daughter, but nor is it an outlandish tale of communication from beyond the grave told by a New-Age devotee. It’s the story of a thoughtful, articulate woman coming to terms with losing her daughter and, at the same time, coming to grips with some startling, hard-to-dismiss evidence that her daughter lives on.
The decision not to make the “supernatural” story the primary thread of the book is a brave one that I appreciate. I appreciate it because it reflects the fact that our knowledge that our loved ones live on does not eliminate the grief we feel in being separated from them. Grief still has to be processed and understood. And I think Forbes’ book does an excellent job of not making it seem like awareness of life after death solves all our present problems.
But it’s a brave approach because it situates her book between two markets, either of which she could fail to please. She hasn’t catered to the New-Age crowd by making her book entirely about her supernatural experiences, or by accepting those experiences without skepticism. On the other hand, even though she’s crafted a book with the literary and philosophical merit to stand on its own without any mention of messages from beyond the grave, she doesn’t shy away from including these less orthodox aspects of her story.
I hope that Forbes’ book–and its appearance on the Boston Globe bestseller list–is evidence that stories about life after death are in the process of becoming acceptable conversation even in sophisticated circles. And I think it quite likely that Forbes’ literary gift, as well as her circumspect, analytical approach to her experiences, will convince some skeptical readers to investigate the matter more closely.
I now leave you to the pleasure of discovering Forbes’ beautifully evocative prose!