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The Alchemy of Loss: A Young Widow's Transformation Hardcover – Mar 25 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Carter's husband, C. Arron Dack, was probably in Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the World Trade Center, when the planes hit on 9/11. Although she hoped he'd miraculously survived, when he didn't turn up the next day, her grieving began. Carter, who now lives in Seattle, Wash., bases her grieving process on a book by Kathleen Brehony called After the Darkest Hour: the first stage, blackening, which in alchemy strips down lead to its original alloys, corresponded to her initial phase of disorienting grief, when she hardly knew how to live day to day, much less how to comfort their two small children, ages two and six. Next, the whitening stage purified the metal; for Carter, some new routines took hold and she started feeling as though she might make it. The final stage, reddening, when the base metal turns to pure gold, corresponded to Carter's own enlightenment. She accepted that she wasn't very good at her former job anymore, and she accepted that she didn't want to live in the house or the town that she'd shared with her husband. Resilient in the end, Carter shares all her doubts and fears along the way, which other grieving widows may appreciate. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
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!
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.