Future Confronted by Louise Rule
An indieBRAG Medallion recipient
It has on many occasions through time been spoken of: the unnaturalness of outliving one’s own child. Unfortunately, many people have had to endure this terrible order of events and each has their own way to grieve. It takes great fortitude to re-count events, for in so doing, one re-lives them and their affiliate pains, not only in the telling but also the reverberating ache that strikes the heart long after the listener has gone away.
In summoning the courage to tell her story—her son’s story—Louise Rule has gifted upon us a piece of herself, of her strength and love for people and life that teaches us without lecturing, enables us in our quest to see the world and its inhabitants as the precious creatures they are.
Rule’s son Rob was just 20 when he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and less than two months later he was no more. Just like that, one might think, right before the swoosh of horror that passes through the consciousness coming to grips with the understanding that most people take much more time than that to absorb the very reality of such an illness. Just like that.
That sort of swiftness is related to the flash of time Rule writes of in her poem, “Just a Moment,” that serves to introduce Rob’s memoir. She references that first awakening of each day before full consciousness, wherewithal, has set in—preceding the full knowledge, for her, of the reality that is.
This Moment lulls me into trusting
Everything is fine. The Moment
Passes, reality remains
It is fitting that Rule opens the book with two memories: one of herself as a child staring up through an apple tree to the sky above, leading closer to the present as it transitions to an ash tree and a downpour, as if the heavens themselves are weeping at the loss to the world, whose tree we are under. Symbolic of healing, a state Rule pursues though cautioning on the difference between this and the impossibility of “getting over it,” the tree has now embraced Rob’s remains, his ashes, holding him in a way his mother no longer can.
Like life, even a life punctuated with occasional negative events, this memoir has its bright moments, most often shared with loved ones. Rule recounts these, too, proceeding by first talking about life after Rob’s death—fitting, given the sometimes-overwhelming task of continuing to live not just after her child has died, but also following a harrowing ten-week period in which speed and unplanned become key notions of existence, when even the compensation of adrenalin threatens shutdown and yet somehow keep going is the order of the day, and then, suddenly, without warning—stop. The adjustment is harrowing and can be debilitating.
Reflected in the title, this circumstance can lead to the breakdown of an entire family, and Rule relates how her clan could not simply go gently, as they say, nor move on: circumstances necessitated a confrontation with what was coming and a reconciliation with what was. She artfully manages the roles of each section in the book by steering them in their duties: a nonlinear storyline—the only way, really, it could have been done—told to an imaginary companion whose presence develops into a full personality, one who understands the singular import of allowing the bereaved to do all the talking. In so doing, she anchors Rule as the author finds her way to a voice uniquely hers, yet fitting for all.
Rule is also clearly suited to the English degree she achieved—having commenced before her son’s illness and finished up after his death. Lyrical and flowing, while simultaneously conversational, her prose maps out these and other events free of emotion for its own sake, but with a writing quality and management skills that at times can lead us to envision the scenes in ways that reflect the moments. In one passage, for example, when the family first learn the seriousness of Rob’s diagnosis, it is as if we are viewing the passage through a prism and sensing the confusion via the distortion.
Nobody spoke; a heavy silence. We were all studying the registrar’s face, eventually; he looked at each of us in turn, then began talking again. I must admit to the fact that I can’t remember what he said after that. His mouth was moving, yes. I could hear a mumbling, yes, but I couldn’t seem to understand him. I tried…I did, I tried, but it had all become surreal, like watching T.V. with the sound down; it was happening to somebody else, not us…not us. Everything was running in slow motion. I became aware that everyone was standing up and moving toward the door…The door clicked, I turned around and stared at the door. We stood rooted, a tragic tableau in the corridor.
Within the pages of Future Confronted Rule takes us through the journey Rob and his family face as they make their way through a labyrinth, navigating in a learn-as-you-go fashion of how to do death when, in reality, despite modern advances in technology and a world of endless interpersonal seminars on taking life by the horns, most of us are still learning how to live.
Rule understands this, and makes no attempt to pass off anything formulaic—or even anything except what she knows and claims only for herself. She shares with us events from Rob’s (and her others sons’) childhood, linking, always linking her transitions and leading us to something we know we have to hear, not because it is hers, but because of her courage and generosity, that becomes ours.
The Russians say that no one ever truly dies as long as there is someone to remember them, and the author brings this to bear on the words of Cicero as she quotes:
The life of the dead is placed
In the memory of the living
Breathtaking and perhaps even frightening in the enormous responsibility this carries, Rule utilizes her skill and draws on her faith to achieve this memory keeper duty. In so doing, she allows us to see Rob a little bit more deeply, allowing us to share her task.
This review previously appeared at Before the Second Sleep’s former location.