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The Alchemy of Loss: A Young Widow's Transformation Hardcover – Mar 25 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart; 1st Edition edition (March 25 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 077101905X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771019050
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 2.5 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 567 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,707,894 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"What an eloquent, brave and (even) occasionally comic account Abigail Carter has given us of her zigzagging odyssey through the country of mourning. No mourner has it easy, but Carter's tasks were daunting – to mother two suddenly fatherless children, to find her own way through the strife that bereavement brings to her parents and mother-in-law, and to disentangle her personal grief from the national mourning. Through it all, she is a generous, nuanced and admirably honest guide."
– Katherine Ashenburg, author of The Mourner's Dance: What We Do When People Die

“Beautifully written . . . Anyone who has faced enormous loss is sure to find some of their experience articulated in Carter’s intimate and candid memoir. It is a book full of tenderness, anger and – ultimately – hope, and one I imagine one friend will give another in times of hardship and loss.”
– Theo Pauline Nestor, author of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed

“One of the most beautiful, engaging, exquisitely crafted books I have ever read. Abigail Carter warmly and courageously invites us into the heart of her intensely private grief – a grief we all shared, but, perhaps, never tasted so fully until now.”
-- John E. Welshons, author of When Prayers Aren’t Answered and Awakening from Grief

“A beautiful example of what is possible when we allow suffering to reshape our idea of happiness.”
-- Maria Housden, author of Hannah’s Gift

“Eloquent and honest. . . . Reading it is like sitting at your own kitchen table listening to Abigail Carter’s story, a story that is unnerving, uplifting and occasionally humorous. . . . remarkable.” – Globe and Mail

“She delves deeply into herself and gives us the unvarnished truth about what she felt . . . It’s a book that will be helpful to people suffering sudden and terrible loss.” – Niagara This Week

“Ms. Carter is scrupulously honest, not sparing herself or others when it comes to descriptions of reactions, of situations handled well, or not so well.” – Peterborough Examiner

About the Author

Abigail Carter was an expat Canadian living in New York with her husband and two children, when her husband was lost in the attack on the twin towers on 9/11. Following the catastrophe, Abby moved to Seattle with her children and began keeping a journal to try to come to terms with what had happened to her family. That act opened another world to her and Abby now works as a full-time writer.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars 13 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Story of Loss and Renewal June 25 2008
By D. Reber - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Alchemy of Loss" is a compelling book about one woman's loss on September 11th and how that event ultimately transformed her life. Abigail candidly shares her journey from the first moment of realization that her life would never be the same again through the grief of her loss and dealing with the reality of her new role as head of a family of three, forging ahead to make choices and create a life that would allow her to heal and her children to be fulfilled, happy people.

I'm thankful that Abigail chose to open her heart and share her story...I think it's an important one for everyone to read, not just to be reminded to embrace the moment and live life to the fullest, but to know that change, no matter how painful, always has the potential to create growth, goodness, and hope.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Passage Through Grief April 11 2009
By Story Circle Book Reviews - Published on
Imagine watching the collapse of the World Trade Center on television knowing, but not wanting to believe, that your husband probably never got out of one of the buildings. Imagine two days later, your six-year-old child asking for a new daddy: "...if we had a new daddy, we wouldn't be sad any more." Imagine boarding a bus, one of hundreds in a convoy, more than a month after the attack to join other families for a public memorial honoring those who died. Imagine later that same day boarding another bus, traveling to a "Family Assistance Center" and waiting your turn to be handed a small blue box containing dust from the rubble of the twin towers that "represented" your loved one. Imagine being told to proceed down the line and as instructed, hold out your arms to receive a triangular folded flag, one hand over, the other under.

Abigail Carter is one of the thousands who found herself in these shocking circumstances. Her story, The Alchemy of Loss: A Young Widow's Transformation, is gripping, poignant, and strangely uplifting--when, four years later we applaud her ability to move ahead. It is the sort of book you can't put down. This is not fiction. I had to take it in small doses.

Abby and her husband, Arron Dack, were not native New Yorkers; they were Canadian citizens living in New Jersey, and had lived in Boston and London. Instead of going to his office that Tuesday morning, Arron was at the Trade Center for a conference at the breathtaking, glitzy restaurant, Windows on the World, at the very top of the North Tower. Abby was rushing to bring her six-year-old daughter, Olivia, to the school bus stop, while grappling to dress two-year-old Carter, when Arron called to say a bomb had exploded in the building. Could she call 911? It was the last time she would hear from her husband.

Abby relates her feelings days later:

"I was haunted by my phone call with him that morning. I replayed it over and over in my head. I wished I had sounded more concerned, told him I loved him. Instead, I had been dismissive, trying to get Olivia on the bus..."

Abby's support system included well-meaning friends, neighbors, and colleagues of her husband. But another day would pass before her parents and mother-in-law would arrive from Canada, crossing the border without incident, even though America was on high alert. Friends drove from Atlanta, Abby's sister arrived from Vancouver. Together these people began the task of helping Abby through her grief, while trying to manage their own. Abby eloquently describes her first visit to Ground Zero:

"The smell was stifling: a mixture of wet concrete, plaster dust, smoke, and burnt flesh. It was a smell I will never forget. It took me a long time to get my bearings and to imagine where Arron's tower had been. Not a single chair, desk, computer, or anything else was recognizable amid the rubble. I watched a bulldozer, balanced precariously atop one of the gray mountains. It moved back and forth awkwardly, bumpily, then its huge shovel rose up and dropped heavily to take a giant bite out of the pile beneath it. Be careful! I thought. Don't hurt him!...After five minutes at most, I was told it was time to leave. A party of dignitaries was set to arrive...I was angry that I was being made to leave. Didn't they realize how long it had taken me to get there? I had endured so much pain to finally reach this place."

If you ever lived in the tri-state area, you either knew someone or knew of someone who perished that dreadful day. Even if you had never been to the Twin Towers, you might have passed by the place on your way to work, or on a day "in the city." You felt a connection. My own family, son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter live in Manhattan. We scrambled to speak to them, learn they were okay. We had been to the Trade Center once for a joyful celebration at Windows on the World.

After the Trade Center tragedy, the Library of Congress created a new subject heading for published works--"September 11 Terrorist Attacks, 2001." Under the sub-division, Personal Narratives, there are just 54 books. Abby's memoir drove me to read others, such as Kristen Breitweiser's Wake-Up Call, and A Widow's Walk, by Marian Fontana. Although the subject heading is the same, their stories are not. Each is as unique as a fingerprint.

Abigail Carter opened her heart and mind in this intimate, valiant book. Her account of her passage through grief needs to be read. She, and thousands like her, are a source of courage for us all.

by Diana Nolan
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read June 4 2008
By Peter Davies - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A first-hand account of a Canadian woman with two young children coping with the death of her husband in the World Trade Centre destruction.

It starts with a typical day in a typical family with the author Abigail Carter preoccupied with getting one of her two young children ready to catch a school bus. The phone rings and it is her husband telling her he thinks a bomb may have gone off at the World Trade Centre. Still focused with getting her daughter to the bus in time, Ms. Carter dismisses the news as just another non-event in the big city and responds to her husband as such.

Rushing out of the door to get to the bus, she does not realize that she has heard her husband's voice for the last time.

The book highlights the real pain and tragedy for thousands of ordinary individuals sometimes forgotten in the media coverage of national interests, formal memorial ceremonies etc.
Ms. Carter tells it as it is, without falling into the trap of sentimentalism or manipulation of emotions. The story, simply told, naturally tears at the reader's heart. I did not have a dry eye for the first 50 pages. But, as is always true in such cases, the tragedy is mixed with times of laughter, humour and wit about the absurdities of everyday life.

It is not a book trying to make a point, or a lesson in how to survive the death of a loved one. It does, however, provide an opportunity to understand, at least partially, ( I feel no-one not having gone though this could possibly fully understand what it must be like) the aftermath of such a tragedy. The book highlights the depths of despair and and the incredible will to survive in ordinary individuals facing extraordinary challenges. It also reminds us that the World Trade Centre collapse was, and continues to be, an unimaginable tragedy for thousands and thousands of unknown individuals.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Alchemical Process Exemplified June 2 2014
By Mary Oak - Published on
This is not the kind of book one "enjoys" because of its heavy subject. However, as a reader, I benefitted by reading it. Ms. Carter's story lights a way for others to find when their own grief needs illumination. It would be impossible not to be moved by the honesty and directness of the narrative. Yes, it is in the context of being a record of a historical event: 9/11, but the stages portrayed, and framed so beautifully as alchemical stages, transcend that context. This is a heroine's journey of enduring tragedy and moving on.

I was particularly moved by the way Ms. Carter, after numerous collective 9/11 events, created her own memorial to her husband. "I had created something that represented the universe that was my family and in doing so I had finally achieved the elusive goal of honoring Arron in a way that allowed me to let go of him, but to never forget him." I honor her for doing so, and for sharing her story with us. Thank you!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imagining the unimaginable March 19 2014
By C. Gebben - Published on
There are some tragedies in life it's nearly impossible to imagine, such as losing a vibrant, healthy husband in one terrible instant. Let alone with the whole world watching in horror. This author suffered the unimaginable, and has written a compelling, up-close account of the shattering loss. In her memoir "The Alchemy of Loss," Canadian-born Carter shares her experience of personal agony and bereavement when her husband Arron lost his life at the World Trade Center on 9/11, a grief intertwined with the much more public outrage and mourning of two nations--the U.S. and Canada. "It was slowly dawning on me that no public memorial service or ceremony would ever satisfy me. What was missing in each of them, what I had failed to realize before now, was that none of them was about Arron. Or me. Or the kids. Or our families. Public services were for the masses ..." In this intimate portrait of the days and years following 9/11, the author relates her struggles to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and find the inner strength to move on.