“An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination” by Elizabeth McCracken


One of my Facebook loss mom groups started a book club and this book was on the list.   I read it on the 90-minute train ride back from Manhattan one afternoon, but not because it was so engrossing.  My iPhone just ran out of batteries, and I had nothing else to do.

I never really connected with this writer.  She and I had very different instincts around some pivotal moments — not better, not worse — just different.  But something about her tone felt irreverent, not humorous, to me.

My favorite part of this book is the title.

So even though our experiences (internal and external) were quite different, and this wouldn’t be counted in my top 10 grief books/memoirs, there is still content worth sharing.

Notable excerpts:

This is why you need everyone you know after a disaster, because there is not one right response.  It’s what paralyzes people around the grief-stricken, of course, the idea that there are right things to say and wrong things and it’s better to say nothing than something.

Even the words ‘words fail’ comforted me… Now they (condolence notes) felt like oxygen, and only now do I fully understand why: to know that other people were sad made Pudding more real.

Grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of the grieving.

Did I really think that by not saying words of consolation aloud, I was doing people a favor?  As though to mention sadness I was ‘reminding’ them of the terrible thing? As though the grieving have forgotten their grief?

Closure is bullshit.

You can never guess at the complicated history of strangers.

The pregnant women in the waiting room made me sad: there they sat in the present, dreaming of the future.  I couldn’t bear watching.  I wanted a separate waiting room for people like me, with different magazines.  No Parenting or Wondertime or Pregnancy… I wanted Hold Your Horses Magazine, Don’t Count Your Chickens for Women. Pregnant for the Time Being Monthly.  Here I was, only in this second, and then the next, and nothing else….What I wanted scrawled across my chart in shaky physician’s cursive: NOTE: Do not blow sunshine up patient’s ass.

When something terrible happens,  you discover a new set of relatives, people with whom you can speak in the shorthand of cousins. It happened to me, too meant: It’s not your fault.

When a baby dies, other dead children become suddenly visible.  Daughters and son. First cousins.  The neighbor kid.  The first child.  The last child. Your older brother.  Some of their names have been forgotten; some never had names in the first place.  They disappeared under heaps of advice.  Don’t dwell.  Have another child, a makeup baby.  Life is for the living.   But then another baby dies, and here they are again, in stories, and you will love them all, and — if you are the mother of a dead child yourself–they will keep coming to you.

I wanted him to know how glad we were to see him, and how sad we were that he’d never know his older brother.

All she wanted was permission to remember her child with pleasure instead of grief.  To remember that he was dead, but to remember him without pain: he’s dead but of course she still loves him, and that love isn’t morbid or bloodstained or unsightly, it doesn’t need to be shoved away.  It isn’t too much to ask.


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