The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 16, 2009

Book review: Author finds ‘Comfort’ after daughter’s death


By Ann Hood

In a sea of bloated, semi-truthful memoirs that seem written especially for Oprah’s Book Club, some shine in their brevity, honesty and utter simplicity. Ann Hood’s “Comfort” is just such a book.

I must admit that I checked it out because, after reading the front flap, I thought it would detail how knitting helped the author through her grief. I was flooded with memories of knitting, knitting, knitting while my grandmother lay dying in the hospital, and I was curious about Hood’s experience.

Realization quickly dawned that “Comfort” was about much more than knitting. It follows a mother’s journey through grief after losing her young daughter.

One April afternoon, Grace, the light of her family’s life, falls in ballet class and breaks her arm; 48 hours later, she is in a hospital ICU, dying from a vicious strain of strep that had entered her bloodstream and proceeded to destroy her organs. Intubation, antibiotics, surgery — nothing would save her. “A day and a half after I carried her into the ER, Grace died,” Hood states with a directness that made my chest hurt.

She really needs to say nothing more than that. But she does, and the result is “Comfort,” a slim volume brimming with pain and beauty.

After the horror of telling Grace’s brother, after the nightmare of the funeral, friends and family return to their everyday lives and Hood is left with her sorrow. People try to console her with platitudes, urging her to write down her feelings. But the writer cannot put her grief into words. She can’t read, she can’t cook, she can’t do anything. Until one day someone suggests she do something with her hands. Perhaps learn to knit? She does so, sitting in the corner of a yarn shop, and the meditation of knitting soon calms her: “It quieted the images of Grace’s last hours in the hospital. It settled my pounding, fearful heart.”

Life becomes a series of firsts. The prologue to “Comfort” is the first thing she writes once words return to her. After three months of not cooking for her family, the first meal she makes is Grace’s favorite: pasta shells tossed with butter and parmesan cheese. She cries as she eats it, but “it was, I think, the first thing I had tasted in a long time.” On what would have been Grace’s sixth birthday, Hood gets her first tattoo, a tiny bell, in honor of her beloved Grace Annabelle.

Time passes, and life goes on but does not get any easier. Hood realizes her hold on normalcy is a tenuous one. “I do not live here,” she writes. “I only visit. Even as I stand here, charming, confident, smiling, I glimpse that other place. I stand always perched at the edge. I live in fear of the times when, without warning, I lift one foot, step from here, and go there, again.”

Three years after Grace’s death, Hood finally packs up her room. “Everything, everything is Grace,” she writes. “I am surrounded by Grace’s things, but Grace is gone.” There is clean laundry, folded neatly on the bed. A coat with the tags still on it hangs in the closet, waiting for a 5-year-old who will never grow into it. Half-eaten bags of forbidden candy are hidden at the back of drawers. It’s as if time stood still in that room, kept closed and unchanged since a little girl’s untimely death.

Eventually, Ann Hood and her family make a decision, one that, while it doesn’t erase the profound sorrow they feel at Grace’s loss, brings great joy into their lives. I’ll leave it to the reader to learn how this story continues. Hood’s journey through grief is not an easy one, but you will feel privileged to join her.

Lisa E. Brown is the administrative assistant at the Joplin Public Library.