Book Of The Week: The Knitting Circle

I mentioned recently that I’m not great at reading instructions. I’m also not great at reading book blurbs, those nice descriptions on the back of the cover that are supposed to suck you in and make you want to read a book. Someone recommended The Knitting Circle to me, so I downloaded it. Without. Reading. What. It’s. About.

By the time I read the Prologue, I was having an uh-uh moment.

You know how TV shows have the little warning at the beginning about whether there are sex, drug, or violence references? Hubby says they need warnings for when something awful happens to a dog or a child. I stopped watching Mad Men after an episode where one of the characters abandoned his dog so he could drink. House M.D. lost me for a while when a child died. Shoot, when we saw War Horse on Broadway, I was a sobbing mess at intermission, and those horses weren’t even real — they had people underneath them, for God’s sakes.

So you can imagine my frame of mind when I learn that in The Knitting Circle, our heroine, Mary, is reeling from the sudden and unexpected death of her daughter.

Mary joins a knitting circle at the suggestion of her mother, with whom she has had a distant, difficult relationship. At first she feels safe among these women who know nothing of her story. Of course, as she gets to know them…

Did you ever hear the Buddhist story about the woman whose baby had died? She went to the Buddha and begged him to bring her child back to life. The Buddha tells her he will do it under one condition: she must find a home where death and loss have not paid a visit. Of course, as she travels everywhere, she hears one story after another about the losses of others.

The Knitting Circle is like that. As Mary ventures back into the world and into new friendships, knitting all the while because knitting brings a sense of peace when nothing else does, she understands that she is not alone.

Author Ann Hood, whose own daughter died similarly to Stella, Mary’s child, brings a depth of understanding to a parent’s grief that only those who have been through it understand. Sometimes strangers provide the greatest kindness and compassion when friends and family don’t know what to say. Mary must learn to take the wound and to knit it into something beautiful.

Reading the story, I found myself angry and upset. Mary is falling apart, unable to function in those deep, early months of grief. I wanted her to get up. I wanted her to triumph. I wanted her to hold it together.

I wanted her to because I had to, because when it happened to me, I had no choice. My babies, two of them, died in utero in 1997, and the pain of those losses has never fully healed. I don’t hurt like I used to, but there are still days when it hits me, especially Mother’s Day and October 14, my daughter’s birthday.

It dawned on me that I wasn’t angry at Mary at all — I was angry that I didn’t get to grieve the way I needed to. I wanted to be the one to fall apart, and I didn’t get to be that person. As Mary’s marriage lurches and struggles through the agony, I remembered how my own marriage came to a loving but painful end when our different grieving styles exposed other incompatibilities.

Like Hood, I wrote about my pain, but in a different way. When a Grandchild Dies: What to Do, What to Say, How to Cope, came out of my experiences as a bereaved mother, when I discovered that I had books and support groups to turn to, while my mother did not. Writing that book changed my life in ways I couldn’t begin to imagine. Like Hood, I have emerged from my grief transformed, even though the scab remains.

Hood knits a beautiful story of loss and healing. It is authentic and true, down to the core. It is breathtakingly sad, but not hopeless. Life does, indeed, go on.

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