THE ALCHEMY OF LOSS by Abigail Carter

Fifteen years coming up this week since September 9, 2001. Images cemented in our minds of airplanes flying into tall buildings, buildings simply crumbling into dust, obliterated, along with 3000 plus people, offices, desks, belongings, papers and all the other paraphernalia of 21st century living and working. For Abigail Carter, it was just another Tuesday, with her two young children, getting them sorted, her husband Arron off to the city for the day, to a trade show at Windows on the World in one of the two towers. And then, just like that, kazaam, life as Abigail knew it was done.

Abigail's life was pretty perfect - loving husband and father to their six year old daughter and two year old son, a career, nice house,  neighbourhood, close extended family. Gone. Not only was this tragedy happening to Abigail, her family, friends etc, but it was also happening to the families and friends of 3000 others. She was just one of many. The intense grief of losing a husband and father was also compounded by the enormity of the whole disaster, it being played out on a world wide stage, to a limitless television audience and as a part of political machinations. I remember a friend some years ago, whose father was a very well known cricketer. When he died she said it was impossible to mourn him just within their family and friends, privately, intimately and lovingly, because the whole country wanted a piece of what was going on. Part of her grief was dealing with all that side of things too.  And she felt cheated. It is the same for Abigail: she is just one of many hundreds of bereaved spouses, her mourning and grieving a very public exercise, adding to her huge burden.

Abigail started writing this two years after her husband's death, and it covers the first four years of her being alone - grieving, mourning, coming to terms with what happened, her own deep trauma, dealing with her children's grieving, coping with single parenthood, the hoops she had to jump through and bureaucracy she had to deal with to 'process' her husband's death - death certificate, proof he was in the towers, DNA, insurance, financial relief. Plus the endless public appearances to mark numerous anniversaries, memorials, public unveilings. All this exacerbated by Aaron being Canadian, with everything having to be duplicated in his home town across the border.  And then gradual acceptance of what has happened, trying to move on, find love again, enjoying her children once more, the family reforming and becoming functional again as three rather than four.

She is a fabulous writer, and no doubt writing this was a form of catharsis  for her. It has everything - raw tragically sad emotional expression, laughter, deep self analysis of not only herself, but her marriage, anger at her husband for going to the city that day, regrets, memories of their early married life. There is humour, development of a razor sharp wit, a backbone of steel, a much bigger heart than she probably thought she had, a toughness, wisdom, independence as a widow and solo mum. It is marvellous stuff.

And as for the use of the word alchemy in the title? Alchemy is all about the transmutation of matter, particularly man's attempts over the centuries to turn base metals into gold. Abigail likens this process to dealing with, living with, and eventually accepting enduring loss. It is a very fitting and illustrative way of showing her story, and where she is now. Highly recommended. 

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