The Rules of Inheritance: A Memoir
“I still remember that first summer after my mom died, leaning my young body up against the bar. The unusual taste of a gin and tonic. The slow warmth that spread through me. The way it dulled the grief and eased the fear.” These are the words of Claire Bidwell Smith, a grief counselor who has walked the walk. Her mother and father were diagnosed with cancer when she was 14, and all three lived in the shadow of death throughout her youth. Both died when she was still a young woman. She coped, but not always in the best ways.
"THE RULES OF INHERITANCE is a memoir in five parts, each one based on one of the phases of grief identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. in her seminal work, ON DEATH AND DYING: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance."
Smith’s parents were courageous, intelligent, creative people who did the best they could to give their only child a hopeful outlook, the will to set goals and follow through. But that was hard --- at times too hard --- for a barely grown-up person to get a handle on. Her mother passed when Smith was just 18; a year later, she was involved in a needy relationship with an emotionally distant man and had an abortion. By the time her father died, she was well on her way to alcoholism. Smith recalls, “I kept waiting for someone more grown up than me to appear and take over.” She careened from bar to bar and man to man, trying to figure out how to find the adult she needed to become. She traveled and became a writer, but lived essentially alone inside her sad, wretched mind.
THE RULES OF INHERITANCE is a memoir in five parts, each one based on one of the phases of grief identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. in her seminal work, ON DEATH AND DYING: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are applicable to the close friends and family of a dying person as well as to the individual dealing with terminal illness. The parts of Smith’s book each begin in her childhood and move forward through adulthood, highlighting incidents that typify each phase. This repeated flashback and fast-forward technique could be distracting to some readers, although her reason for utilizing it is clear: to give a sense of how these phases are not static, do not necessarily happen in any particular order, can overlap, can last or fade at different rates.
Before she died, her mother wrote a journal for Smith, along with many letters. In one, she told her, with regard to meeting and loving men, “Find yourself and you’ll find your other self.” In writing this book, her own exercise in journaling her feelings of grief and regret, Smith demonstrates that she has found herself. Now married with a daughter, she counsels others as they find themselves trapped in a flood of pain, panic and deep loneliness. “Even in the midst of all this pain and sadness I see something beautiful. I see a basic human connection.” That connection has allowed her to move forward and to help others do the same.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on February 2, 2012