Travels With My Grief by Susan Bloch

Travels With My Grief by Susan Bloch

I chose Travels With My Grief because I have yet to encounter grief in this capacity. People read memoirs for so many varied reasons. Indeed, I imagine that each of us reads for a variety of reasons. I read memoirs to immerse in a perspective that is not my own, to understand — if only briefly, incompletely, and inadequately — what an experience of life might be. I am a humanist.

Memoirs, therefore, inherently take me to places of great discomfort, places of dark unfamiliarity. My objective is dissonance, the book and my reading of it, a form of liminal initiation by proxy.

Travels With My Grief threw me into an ice-cold alien landscape, one which was terrifying because of its banality: This is an ordinary grief, the loss of a spouse, a friend, a companion, a lover. The wall between my comfortable life and Bloch’s grief-stricken one was a thin one, translucent enough for me to see myself in her stead. One day — my odds are 3 to 1, based on my own fallible knowledge of male and female longevity — I will be in that place, in her place. A widow.

And what then? The journey of grief Bloch takes the reader on is both ethereal, surreal, unreal and all to plausible simultaneously, because no one imagines the death of one so close to themselves and yet, we all must experience it in some fashion — or at very least, contemplate the possibility.

For those same reasons, Travels With My Grief was comforting. Bloch survived, survives, so too will I, could I, must I.

But Travels With My Grief does not convey a simple message of “You Will Survive”, it is more. It is surviving without forgetting, without discarding the grief. Grief becomes a passenger in the life thereafter, where, in the beginning, it might have once been the driving force. Another comforting message.

This memoir is also about the concept of grief, the power — emancipating and debilitating — of the idea of widowhood. There are cross-cultural clashes, competing notions of what it means to grieve, how to do it, what it can or should be in a person’s life. This memoir is about how to live with those shifts in one’s identity, not only internally from our own subjective experience, but also how those who grieve might be treated by others. What does it mean to be labelled, “widow”? How does one live with such an identifier when one hasn’t been that before?

I am glad to have read this. But Travels With My Grief is a memoir that cannot make sense fully to me, not until I am in the throes of this kind of grief. I imagine that when that moment comes, passages from the book may return to my mind or I will be inclined to reread it.

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