Carol Becker is Professor of the Arts and Dean of Faculty at Columbia University School of the Arts in New York City. She has written for many print and online publications on varied topics, including the intellectual lives and emotional well-being of women. She is also the author of Zones of Contention: Essays on Art, Institutions, Gender, and Anxiety; Surpassing the Spectacle: Global Transformations and the Changing Politics of Art; and Thinking in Place: Art, Action, and Cultural Production. Her recently reissued book The Invisible Drama: Women and the Anxiety of Change has been translated into six languages and is available worldwide.
Publication Date: September 12, 2016
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