Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Book in a Day


"The Rules of Inheritance" was released on February 2. I woke up that morning to an email from, letting me know the book had been delivered to my Kindle. Up and out of bed with the excitement of a toddler on Christmas morning, I grabbed my iPad and curled up in a chair in the living room and devoured the first section while sipping the day's first cup of coffee. But it didn't stop there. It couldn't. I was riveted; compelled to keep reading. I couldn't put it down. My friend--the author--Claire Bidwell Smith's first book was a first book for me too: it was the first book read from cover to cover in one sitting. It consumed me.

I knew some of the stories from meeting Claire, when she was our hospice grief counselor who made weekly visits to north side apartment as part of the hospice services afforded to my partner Ken, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. On her visits, during many of our talks we asked her about where the book was in terms of getting published. It was exciting and terribly impressive--particularly to aspiring writers like Ken and I. He was as thrilled for her as I was. In fact, the whole family really got into the act.

The book itself is a sensual read about her experience of having both parents diagnosed with cancer within months each other when she was fourteen. Her mother died when she 18 and her father when she was 25. A lot of loss for an only child to deal with. Her easy writing style in the book is unconventional--more like reading a personal diary in some ways than anything else. And most importantly, I felt like she was talking to me. I could hear her gentle serene voice reading the words aloud in my head.

So much has happened since those visits last spring. She and her family relocated to LA just a week or so before Ken died. And through the darkness that ensued, Claire and I remained in touch, even having the opportunity to meet for drinks later in the summer--to check in with each other. Emails and texts followed. And as a faithful reader of her blog, I was kept in constant touch with what was going on in her exciting pre-publication life.

Within the framework of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance), Bidwell Smith weaves a lattice of vignettes from her life, not chronologically but by these stages that serve to envelope you and take on this journey with her. With no shroud or subterfuge, Claire tells her story poetically in some parts, and with stark honesty in others. It was a true emotional roller coaster. There were parts where I openly wept for her and what she was going through, other times I wept selfishly without abandon for myself, what I've lost because she was saying rings that I'd said or felt during my husband's illness. And other times, I didn't know who I was weeping for.

I don't know if I ever would have heard of Claire's book had I never known her or experienced loss and subsequent grief as I did, but that's how life works, I suppose. When someone special like Claire comes into your life, you know your better for it. I know I am. Her book helped me to release some feelings I wasn't sure I still had, and I'm so grateful for that.

If you have ever experienced loss and grief, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. Yes, I'm a little jaded because we're friends, but that didn't mitigate what a well-written memoir it is.

I encourage Chicagoans to go to her book signing event at Women and Children First Books on March 1. You can see her other events on her website, or check out my review (and several others) on

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