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The Lively Shadow: Living with the Death of a Child

The Lively Shadow: Living with the Death of a Child - Donald M. Murray Possibly the best of the bereaved parent narratives I have read to date. Shocking that Donald Murray (wrote Globe columns about his life with his beloved wife Minnie Mae in the Living section for years) wrote his initial autobiography without treating the death of his middle daughter Lee at age 20. However, he makes up for it by writing a thorough and beautiful account of the experience in this book wholly dedicated to the story.It starts in the hospital, backtracks to how they got the call that she had fallen sick while they were away for the weekend, the race to the hospital, the quick days of her demise, the aftermath. His memories go back and forth, from when she was a baby to a young adult and through her death."When I had my heart attack and they were losing me, I looked up the long, brightly lit tunnel and there was Lee, in the blue jumper she made, waving." P.21The hospital experience: "We do not know if it is morning or night. There is no weather in our world. We each go alone to stand by Lee. I cannot believe how alive she looks, so beautiful, so peaceful, so unaffected by the medical war the doctors, technicians, nurses are fighting in her body. But we do not visit her often or stay with her long. We believe she is in the care of doctors and machines, that we have handed her over to professionals and it is our duty not to interfere. Years after it is all over, living backward, I will hate our discipline, our tearless waiting, our Anglo-Saxon bravery, the stiff upper lip and worst of all, leaving her alone, not touching her, not holding her hand, not talking to her.' p.68-9"The small, painful tasks are what will save us, I tell myself, almost believing it. Baby steps. Stunned, not yet accepting what has happened, exhausted from the waiting, flannel-mouthed, eyes burning, we make decisions." p.91"I wake the morning after Lee's burial and realize it is the first day of a new life, one I never dreamed I would experience. The day stretches out like a road in Nebraska, long, straight, and without landmarks. What do I do to start this life without Lee?" p.99"I try to imagine the future. Will we "get over it" and be cured of mourning? Will we forget and find comfort in forgetting? Will we remain in the unreal reality, dreaming through life, hope we will wake and it will all be untrue? Then I shop in a store in our small town and the owner, who I have in my grief forgotten has lost a son shocks me by saying, "It won't get any better, Don." I step back as if he hit me. He watches me but refuses to apologize or attempt to gentle his brutal counsel, but strangely, as I leave, I find myself taking comfort from that statement. Lee's death will be part of us forever. It will mark us forever. There will be healing as there is when a leg is amputated. We will become who we are: "the Murrays, who lost a daughter, you know." And as we live this life, we will always feel the leg that others cannot see, that invisible leg I have heard amputees talk about that feels cold, pain, itches, lives on in memory. It will not get any better, and I feel a strange comfort in that. I will have to live this changed life as well as I can. There will be no healing, but I will become familiar with this new life, always having at my side the daughter that no one else can see. I might even find it a comfort to know that she will always be near." p. 105."At times I have to sit for what seems a ridiculously long time to remember how to start the car, how to turn on the TV or stereo, how to eat dinner, answer the phone, pay attention to what someone is saying. . . Much that was unconscious in the life I lived before now has to be found and made conscious with an effort that seems Herculean. We pass each other in the house as if we are sleepwalking, not speaking as we all search for the way to live our lives around the edge of the crater left by Lee's death." p.121Unexplainable rage that he lashes out in a road incident. Sightings of Lee in crowds, on the streets, through the years, never Lee of course."We would not recover from Lee's death. We were forever changed, and we would have to accept all it meant, including a strange, powerful and discomforting pride. If we could accept her death and go on, we would be able to accept Minnie Mae' breast cancer, her Parkinson's, my hear attack, bypass, and angioplasty, our diabetes, my glaucoma, Minnie Mae's many eye operations. Lee would understand the irony of our exchange of gifts. We gave her the gift of death, and she gave us the gift of acceptance." p. 176-7.I didn't find the passage to copy out, but he talks about not really being aware of how his other 2 daughters are doing for a while after their sister's death -- he just can't be a parent to them then.