Losing Helen

Carol Becker, a middle-aged only child, had the talk no one likes to have with her widowed mother, Helen, when Helen was 93 years old. "My mother was already quite old, but she did not seem old to me.... She still looked glamorous.... She walked with pride, wore heels every day, and... had 'all her marbles.' " At that time, Helen expressed that when she died, she wanted to be cremated, her ashes scattered at sea. But five years later, when Helen was in hospice, Carol discovered that Helen's contract with the Neptune Society--paid in full--had been amended: Helen wanted to be buried with her husband, Carol's father, instead. What follows is a chronicle of Carol's devotion to her mother--in life and in death--and her odyssey to ensure that Helen's ashes successfully traveled from Tamarac, Fla., to her final place of rest in Paramus, N.J. The journey becomes fraught with complications since Carol's father was Jewish, and while Helen never renounced her Polish-Catholic faith, she "let it slide." This technicality poses unforeseen challenges to her mother's interment in a Jewish cemetery and encourages Carol to examine her own beliefs, memories, grief and the strength of the mother-daughter bond.

Losing Helen is a compact essay whose themes probe deep. In Becker's reflective prose, she acknowledges that all "art making and writing is just an attempt to give... unfathomability form. I am not sure anyone... succeeds." Becker (The Invisible Drama) does indeed succeed--profoundly. This meditative, grace-filled gem is moving and soul-enriching. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

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