Grief and Love Go Hand in Hand: Reflecting on Elizabeth Berg’s “I’ll Be Seeing You”

Mourning, and grieving, take up a lot of space in my head these days. So, floundering around for something new to read, I searched for a list of Elizabeth Berg’s books, which I always enjoy.

And I found one, just not what I expected.

Last night, I finished reading her new book, I’ll Be Seeing You. The title signaled a World War II theme, and since – like my father was – I am a pushover for novels and memoirs about that time period, I hit BUY on my Kindle without doing too much thinking about the contents.

This memoir is about my parents’ last years, when my dad developed Alzheimer’s Disease and they had to leave their long-time home and move to a place that offered more help. It is a deeply personal but universal story that charts the movement from pain, anger, and confusion into graceful acceptance.

~ Elizabeth Berg

At 200 pages, I’ll Be Seeing You doesn’t take long to read – I read it over the course of two evenings. Berg writes in such a way that I felt as if she were speaking directly to me, telling me everything over a nice cup of coffee or, better yet, a glass of Chardonnay and a plate of perfect French cheeses.

If your parents still bounce around with the verve of young adults or never seem to slow down to chat, this book is probably not for you.

Not yet.

But it’s coming. yes. Not just for them, but for you, too.

Berg’s experience with her aging parents resonates with me, because I have been – at least partially – through what she describes, faced with aging parents too stubborn to listen to reason. When I finished reading, I sprawled in my bed, a dark blue quilt of Indian cloth pulled up to my chin, dabbing at my teary eyes because I felt overwhelmed by grief. Berg’s father’s death sounded eerily close to the way to my own father died.

But something else struck me when I closed my Kindle in the dark last night.

I realized that I have been in mourning for several years, for my father, yes, of course.

But also for my country. The grief I’ve felt with this has been crippling at times.

I love my country.

I always have. And I’ve always believed it could be the shining city on the hill.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

~ Emma Lazarus, poem at the Statue of Liberty, New York harbor

Sometimes my country has disappointed me, because it doesn’t always try to live up to the ideals of the Founders. Or at least what seemed to be the ideals, things that those of us who came after insist on: true equality, acceptance of others, care for the poor and vulnerable, global responsibility. I could make a long list. So could you, I imagine.

I love my country so much, and yearn for what it could be. What it SHOULD be.

I have tried mightily not to be political here, but it’s been hard these last four years, as I watch the daily drama and destruction of basic decency unfolding. And with the increasing horror of the pandemic, now with no end in sight, I despair for the world, too.

Berg’s book reminded me that grief and love go hand in hand: without love, there will be no grief, no mourning.

I am hoping that my days and hours of mourning will soon be over, that hope will blossom again.

Please vote.

© Mikhail

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