Losing Helen

A daughter’s thoughtful meditation on the inevitable loss of her elderly mother and her efforts to design an end-of-life experience that has meaning for them both.

Losing Helen is a first-person narrative essay of a daughter’s profound journey through the many phases in the process of losing her ninety-eight-year-old mother. As an only child, she must assume complete responsibility for the often absurd but necessary planning that illness and death require. At the same time, she must struggle with her overwhelming grief and confusion, trying to make sense of her mother’s life and her own. As she gradually comes to accept the inevitable loss, she focuses instead on finding ways to ensure a dignified and respectful passage, designing an end-of-life experience that is meaningful and sacred for them both.

In this compelling and thoughtful meditation, the author finds guidance in the spiritual insights of Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, the artwork of the Renaissance masters, Indian mythology, Buddhist philosophy, and the traditions of Catholicism and Judaism that are part of her interfaith heritage. Although unique in form, Losing Helen is reminiscent both in subject and depth of feeling of Simone de Beauvoir’s A Very Easy Death, Philip Roth’s Patrimony, and Roland Barthes’s Mourning Diaries.


“In this beautiful memoir, Carol Becker accompanies her mother’s living and dying with wisdom, humor, and deep, uncomplicated love such as we rarely allow ourselves to feel. It is a gift of courage amidst inconsolable loss for which her readers will be grateful.”—Marianne Hirsch, author of The Generation of Postmemory

“Carol Becker’s work of undying devotion shows us that the death of a parent can be a time of unanticipated grace. Brave, honest, and moving, Losing Helen is also unexpectedly comforting. It makes it clear that kindness, clarity and insight can arise out of a willingness to face the traumas of our lives.”—Mark Epstein, M.D., author of Going to Pieces without Falling Apart and The Trauma of Everyday Life

“Carol Becker’s extraordinary transcription of grief and love transcends various forms?memoir, autobiography?to become something else entirely: a work of literature that is entirely sui generis, constantly surprising, real, and, like the truth, beautiful and sustaining. A book to be treasured, embraced, and learned from.”—Hilton Als, staff writer, The New Yorker

A blue background with yellow script that reads Losing Helen an essay by Carol Becker.

Carol Becker ( Author Website )

Publication Date: September 12, 2016

Genre/Imprint: Non-Fiction, Red Hen Press

$14.95 Tradepaper

Shop: Red Hen, Bookshop, Barnes & Noble

ISBN: 978-1-59709-990-5

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Carol Becker Interviewed for Los Angeles Review of Books!

THIS IS THE 56th in a series of dialogues with artists, writers, and critical thinkers on the question of violence. This conversation is with Carol Becker, professor of arts and dean of Faculty at Columbia University School of the Arts.