Out Of Step: A Diary To My Dead Son
He had been too dead for 8 years! Was there any way to repair their damaged relationship now? His mother desperately wanted to try. Her growing need for communication in their truncated relationship pushed her to start a diary to her dead son. In it, she tried to fill in the gaps, initiate conversations that never happened, continue conversations that were unfinished, tell him about her life that he hadn't wanted to know, and attempt to listen to him as the child he had been, and the adult he had grown into. Interracial adoption in the 1970s, divorce, guilt and abandonment, homosexuality, HIV-AIDS, death in one's prime -- all were parts of their complicated mother-son relationship.
My almost 35-year-old son died of AIDS in 2003. Writing helps me deal with life, so I tried a couple of times to write about him as both fictional and non-fictional. I soon gave up and wrapped him up in a warm, fuzzy place in my heart, living with the ache because he was dead, and the guilt and pain of our truncated relationship.
Eight years later, my mind unproductively gnawed on my grief. He was just too dead. How could I make him come more alive to me? Our relationship, complicated by transracial adoption, homosexuality, divorce, and living separately from the time he was 12, left me with a largely unfinished, partially formed relationship. There had been years when he refused all contact with me and the only information I had about him was through his dad.
He had tentatively re-connected to me when his HIV moved into AIDS. At that time, it was pretty much a death sentence. Over the two years until his death, he took charge of the contact, calling me when he wanted, but never giving me his phone number. The phone calls were somewhat uncomfortable conversations that mimicked an angry teenager and parent. A year before his death, he came to visit for one week that was cut short by his needing to be hospitalized for a few days. He had little breath left for talking.
I was left with much that was unsaid and undone between us. In 2011, I started to write a diary to him, rather than about him. Rather than having to push myself to write regularly, I found myself going eagerly to the computer to talk to him. Talking to him was, indeed, what I did. I talked to him about what was going on in my life, what was going on in the world, what was going on with AIDS in the news. I answered questions that I thought he might have had. I gave him a picture of who I was in old age, what I thought about, what I wanted to do with what was left of my life. I wanted him to understand me as I am in the present.
Although I had welcomed him to come with me as I stretched myself into other parts of the world and other cultures, he had chosen to stay with his father. He felt I had abandoned him; I felt he had abandoned me. In the diary, we could finally talk about that.
The tone of what I wrote to him ran the gamut of emotions. Sometimes I was angry, expressing hurt that he had chosen to live with his father instead of me. I realized the reason I couldn't write about him was that I really didn't know him well as an adult. My curiosity to learn more about his life and the adult he had grown into grew. The diary helped me to ask him many questions and think about his possible answers. I allowed him to ask me any questions he wanted to, and I tried to answer them.
In writing the diary, I was able to realize more deeply how much the divorce had hurt him. I thought more about how his homosexuality might have influenced his life and his decisions. Having to imagine his responses to what I was saying forced me to see things more from his perspective.
As I wrote and freed emotional baggage I had kept packed for so many years, I became more creative, more poetic in my writing. I wrote about things I was reading, what I was seeing, what I was thinking.
I would have said before that I was a pessimist who faked being an optimist, but I found myself reading the old book about Pollyanna and beginning to sign e-mails to other friends as Pollyanna-in-training, moving eventually to Pollyanna-ish.
I wondered how the diary could end. And then - it just did. I knew it came to its end when I wrote imaginary phone conversations between us. In these calls we were calm, forgiving, and loving. I was ready to publish the e-book, "Out of Step: A Diary To My Dead Son," and moved onto sending him occasional e-mails.
He did become more alive to me. My grief moved into a less devastating phase, and I gained more appreciation for my dear dead son. It was more than I had hoped for when I began the diary to him.
My sincere thanks to Mamta Madhavan for reviewing my book through Readers' Favorite
Review Rating: 4 stars.
Reviewed By Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favorite
Out of Step: A Diary To My Dead Son by Suellen Zima is the heart-rending diary entries of a mother to her son whom she abandoned when he was twelve. After losing him, she realizes the magnitude of her loss and her irresponsible behavior which lingers inside her all the time. Through the book, she reveals how the need for being with her son, though he is no more, has not ended. Her feelings of guilt, remorse and regret speak through her words and connect with all those parents who have lost a child. The author writes the memoir not as his birth mother, but as the only mother he knew.
The author's pain is palpable through all the entries and will leave readers pained. It is also helpful to readers to work through their own feelings of pain and guilt and finally be healed. The author shares with readers the conversations she never had with her son, but which she wanted to so that she could reach out to him. The memoir reveals a complicated mother-son relationship and many readers will be able to relate to this.
The memoir covers the issues of adoption, divorce, abandonment and homosexuality. The author shares a few poems as some of her diary entries, opening her heart to readers. It's a book worth reading as the author tries to transcend the barrier of death and communicate with her dead son.
Below are my comments to the reviewer --
Many thanks to the Reviewer for choosing this book to read. She could feel the pain and desire to "transcend the barrier of death." Although she mentions that the relationship was a complicated one, including adoption, divorce, abandonment, and homosexuality, I am sorry she did not give the potential reader more understanding of the relationship and situation. Also, along with the pain was a certain joy in communicating with my dead son.