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A Music I No Longer Heard: The Early Death of a Parent


Parents die. At any age, the loss of a parent marks a profound and often overlooked transition in life. When the parent leaves a young child to grow up without guidance, nurturing, goading, and love, the event becomes a landmark, a defining moment.

When authors Leslie Simon and Jan Johnson Drantell learned of their common experience of losing a parent at a young age, they set out to discover the experiences and effects that unite those who have lived through this same signal ...

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Parents die. At any age, the loss of a parent marks a profound and often overlooked transition in life. When the parent leaves a young child to grow up without guidance, nurturing, goading, and love, the event becomes a landmark, a defining moment.

When authors Leslie Simon and Jan Johnson Drantell learned of their common experience of losing a parent at a young age, they set out to discover the experiences and effects that unite those who have lived through this same signal event. "Every tragedy has its before and after," they write. "One day a child's life feels normal, the next it feels as if the world has torn apart."

This is a rent that can never be repaired, a wound that despite the passage of time and the coming of age never truly heals. In A Music I No Longer Heard, Simon and Drantell have collected the voices of seventy men and women who share this poignant life's journey. "Even three or four years later," the noted filmmaker Ken Burns remembered, "my wish would be that my mother would come back. I think I just submerged the fact that she had died."

As life progresses, the authors point out, every new experience is filtered through the lens of loss. The dead parent remains a vibrant presence in these lives: "My relationship with my father doesn't seem finished, or sealed." Or in the words of another, "I feed myself with memories of my mother. I think about her and it is just a wonderful feeling."

Most of all, these children of loss experience adulthood differently, always compensating in some way when choosing a mate or a career, in developing the ability to trust and to love, and in the willingness to take risks and live life to the fullest. "Maybe my dad's death, in some small way," one woman wonders, "helped me to wake up and see what the world is, what the world could offer."

What emerges from these stories is a moving portrait of the many and various ways that the death of a parent shapes one's life. A Music I No Longer Heard will be therapeutic for those who have lost a parent and will enable those who have not to understand the complex emotions that surround this all too common experience.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Maxine Harris Author of The Loss That is Forever A Music I No Longer Heard fills a serious gap in the literature on bereavement. The authors allow scores of survivors to describe their losses in their own words; all speak from the immediacy of experience. Every reader will be able to find a kindred spirit who shares his or her own unique experience of loss.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Designed like an oral history and reading like the transcript of a very long talk show moderated by an insightful but occasionally gratuitous host, this is an excellent resource for anyone who has lost a parent early or anyone attempting to understand someone who has. What makes this stand out is the broad range of stories that Drantell Healing Hearts and Simon Collisions and Transformations: New and Selected Poems have managed to incorporateincluding their own. The ages of the contributors range from late teens to 87, and that breadth is also reflected in their ages at the time of their loss: one woman's mother died giving birth to her; others had both parents through most of their teens. Causes of death include illness, accident, suicide and murder. Some parents were divorced when they died; some were alcoholic or abusive, others supportive and loving; many fit somewhere between. The stories told by their surviving children are alternately fascinating and heart-rending, and only occasionally touchy-feely. Some are redundant, but no matter their shortcomings, the themes will resonate with anyone who lost a parent before adulthood: denial; fear of intimacy, forgetting and idealizing; fear that the loved one who isn't home on time is dead in a ditch; superiority at having survived; and perhaps the greatest fear, that life may be better for the loss. Mar.
Kirkus Reviews
A Studs Terkellike approach—brief, topically organized excerpts from many interviews—on the experience of losing a parent as a child or adolescent. Simon (Women's Studies/City College of San Francisco) and Drantell (a San Franciscobased writer and book editor) are best here in an introductory chapter and "coda" that relate reactions to their own childhood and adolescent losses (Simon, a father at age 17; Drantell, a mother at age 11) and emotional journeys in compiling the material for this book. Their 70 interviewees cover an impressive cross-cultural and inter-generational range, and yield some fascinating insights about how not only the subjects, but also the surviving parent, siblings, other relatives, peers, and neighbors, reacted to such a cataclysmic loss. For example, a 61-year-old man who lost his mother and father two years apart in the early 1950s recalls, "There was no discussion of grieving. . . . I was just a working-class kid. We didn't talk, we stuffed it in." Conversely, other interviewees, particularly those who came of age after about 1965, feel that the experience of early parental loss could be talked about, and also that it matured and deepened them emotionally; as one woman in her 30s put it, her father's death when she was 11 "made me more open to life, made me want to take it on more fully. Because you touch something that's in the marrow. You cut through a lot of superficiality and are more sensitive to things." In general, however, the panoramic approach that Terkel applied to sweeping historical events such as the Depression and WW II doesn't work as well for an experience as highly personal as a parent's death. Here, the reader needs to beintroduced to both the deceased parent and the interviewee in greater depth than the several short excerpts from a far longer interview provided here. (The reader also learns only about the interviewees' first name, current age, and age when they lost a parent; inexplicably, only those who are writers or otherwise artists are identified by their profession or vocation.) In addition, the authors see fit to provide brief general comments as an introduction to each topical subsection; unfortunately, their words are rarely illuminating and at times hackneyed (e.g., "As grown-up orphans, if we know one thing, we know death is inevitable. At different times in our lives, we experience the inevitability differently"). Largely because of its methodology, Simon and Drantell's mosaic oral history ultimately lacks sufficient reflective or imaginative depth and emotional force. However, it should prove comforting and perhaps helpful to those who have lost, or are about to lose, a parent in childhood or adolescence, as well as to their immediate relatives.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451613643
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 7/18/2010
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 552,968
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Leslie Simon,
whose father died when she was seventeen, has written several books of poetry and teaches women's studies at City College of San Francisco.

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