Editor Bob Blauner has done an exquisite job of weaving together old and new stories on a subject that men donít talk much about--their relationships with their mothers. Compelling and moving stories. In doing so, he invites and encourages us to look at this aspect of who we are. The "old" stories are drawn from biographies of writers like Wallace Stegner, John Updike, Kirk Douglas, New York Times columnist Russell Baker and Henry Miller. But the "new stories" that Blauner solicited for this anthology are also finely-crafted gems. One of the most moving is a "decline letter" from a man who tells why he finds the subject so difficult and wonít be contributing to the anthology.
Why is the subject so difficult or problematical for so many men? Blauner suggests in the subtitle of the book, "On the Death of Mothers and the Grief of Men" that itís as our mothersí deaths approach, or after they die, that men reflect on what they have meant in our lives. This certainly squares with my own life and my experience at menís gatherings and retreats. There is much talk of fathers and father-wounding, but little of mothers. Blauner suggests that we have learned to name the feelings about our fathers--be they anger, betrayal or admiration--but our feelings for our mothers have deeper roots in pre-verbal infancy. They remain inchoate, often blurred and fuzzy, ambivalent and suppressed.
Psychologists emphasize that we have a need to separate emotionally from out mothers, push them away, so we can identify with male figures and grow up to be men. (Terry Real, by the way, challenges this notion in his book on men and depression, I Donít Want to Talk About It, reviewed elsewhere on MenWeb.) Blauner suggests itís essential for a manís spiritual development that he "return" to her. He calls this one of menís mid-life tasks, and points lout it can take place either before or after her death. But according to Dr. Samuel Osherson, author of Finding Our Fathers and Wrestling With Love, most men never even begin the journey of return to their mothers. Blaunerís book can help us begin, and help us along that journey.
The book has stories of "good deaths" and "bad deaths"-- "good" in the sense that the man has reached "closure." Some of the mothers were very supportive and others wildly abusive. Some men lost their mothers when they were children. Others grappled with the pain of mothers who lost their bodies or their minds and memories, bit by bit, in their last days. Thereís a beautiful euthanasia story. Blaunerís excellent commentary at the beginning of each section provides a unifying thread to help us make sense of these experiences.
Our mothersí spirits? The title comes from Gardiner Harrisí prose poem "What Am I: I Am My Motherís Spirit." Some of the mothers were very spirited. Others had a lot of "life force" or "vital energy." Blaunerís other notion of "spirit" is essence, or inner core of oneís psychic being, which in some cases showed up unexpectedly as they were dying, shining through death itself.
The most popular feature in MenWeb, the former M.E.N. Magazine and the new Menís Voices journal is menís personal stories. For the good reason that other menís stories invite us to resonate with our own stories, the truth of our own experience. This book is a "must read," not simply because the stories themselves are beautiful and poignant, but also because they invite us to look into this too-often-neglected yet vitally important part of our own lives.