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Archive by tag: Nicci GerrardReturn
May 09, 2022

The author of Quiet again bangs the drum for the world’s sensitive souls, but her unflagging earnestness is depressingly short of nuance and humour

Now then, on a scale of 0 to 10: do you seek out beauty in your everyday life? Do you know what CS Lewis meant when he described joy as a “sharp, wonderful stab of longing”? Do you react intensely to music or art or nature? Are you moved by old photographs? Do you experience happiness and sadness simultaneously?

If your answer is emphatically yes to these and similar questions in Susan Cain’s Bittersweet Quiz (I came to a jarring halt at the one about being perceived as an “old soul”), then you will score highly and qualify as a “true connoisseur of the place where light and dark meet”. You are not sanguine (robust, forward-leaning, ambitious, combat-ready, tough), but bittersweet – and to be bittersweet means to be sensitive, creative and spiritual, with a “tendency to states of longing, poignancy and sorrow; an acute awareness of passing time; and a curiously piercing joy at the beauty of the world”. Bittersweet, writes Susan Cain with her startling sincerity, means the transformation of pain into “creativity, transcendence and love”.

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Jan 31, 2022

Wendy Mitchell’s good-humoured practical guide to living with dementia has a deeper, more existential message for all of us: connect, forgive, accept and live

One bright afternoon not long ago, Wendy Mitchell saw her father in her garden. She was inside with a mug of tea and he was standing on the lawn in his baggy green cardigan, smiling at her. She saw the yellow of his nicotine-stained fingers and the shine of his black, Brylcreemed hair. They stared at each other, happy to be together again. Then, in the blink of an eye, he was gone and the sunlit lawn was empty.

Her father had been dead for more than 20 years and the sighting of him through the glass door was simply one of the many visual hallucinations that ambush Mitchell: the escalator turns into a waterfall; a marble floor is a swimming pool; a patterned carpet writhes with creatures; a person dressed in black becomes a disembodied head floating on air. Seeing her dead father could have been scary, confusing or painfully distressing, but instead Mitchell accepted the trick that dementia was playing on her as a gift, a moment of grace.

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May 08, 2021

The novelist joins the list of great writers reflecting on loss with this eloquent meditation on her father’s death

In the last decades, the grief memoir has become a genre of its own, a form of public mourning and sometimes of self-therapy, where the bereaved search for a meaning in the chaotic pain that comes with the death of a child, a sibling, a parent, a friend or the imminent death of the self. But intense grief commonly turns a world upside down. The death of a loved one resists meaning and it plays havoc with the order and chronology of language. How can words give shape to shapelessness or articulate silence and dissolution? As Emily Dickinson said: “Abyss has no biographer.”

Several of the most powerful memoirs of recent years (Blake Morrison’s And When Did You Last See Your Father?, Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, Marion Coutts’s The Iceberg) grapple with this question of how grief threatens to obliterate language and erase the boundaries of selfhood and of time. The dead are not gone; time has ceased and time continues; the relationship is not over. Hisham Matar writes in his intensely moving requiem for his father, The Return, that “my father is both dead and alive. I do not have a grammar for him. He is in the past, present and future.”

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