University of Chicago Press, 1997 - Biography & Autobiography - 136 pages
The New York Times Book Review praised Alan Shapiro's The Last Happy Occasion as a "touching and intelligent, emotionally satisfying and elegant testimony to the power of poetry to instruct, heal and inspire." Vigi emerges from the final chapter of that book, "Sittin' in a Funeral Place," a powerful essay about Shapiro's sister Beth, her struggle with breast cancer, and the limitations of poetry in confronting the untransformable pain of loss.
In Vigil, Shapiro chronicles with heart-wrenching lyricism the final four weeks of Beth's life in a hospice, attended by her parents, brothers, husband, daughter and friends. One by one, as loved ones arrive to visit Beth, Shapiro reveals fragments of their personal history, bringing to life a troubled and poignant past. A visit from their brother David triggers the memory of a searing betrayal—the parents disowned Beth after learning from David that she was secretly dating a black man; a visit from the parents recalls their bitter quarrels over Beth's radical politics; a visit from Beth's black husband brings the painful memory of their wedding and her parents' refusal to attend. These recollections and feelings that surface with each visit evoke the unresolved, deeply disturbing issues that kept the Shapiro family estranged for so long, making the reconciliation that Beth's death brings to her family all the more extraordinary.
Shapiro gives an unconventionally honest account of our responses—horror, relief, impatience, exhaustion, exhilaration, projection, fear, self-criticism, and a sense of fulfillment—in the presence of the dying. Concluding with a selection of moving poems, Shapiro affirms the astonishing link between creativity and healing, and provides a coda to the whole experience. The price of human connection may be great, but human connection, in the end, has the power to redeem even the most painful of human experiences.
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VIGILUser Review - Kirkus
Award-wining poet Shapiro, whose first memoir, The Last Happy Occasion (not reviewed) was highly acclaimed, wrenches all he can from this chronicle of his sister's death from breast cancer. As his ... Read full review
VigilUser Review - Not Available - Book Verdict
Shapiro's sister Beth is dying of cancer, and he and his family spend her last four weeks at her bedside in a hospice. Within this short work, Shapiro (The Last Happy Occasion, LJ 10/1/96) reveals the ... Read full review
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afternoon answer arrived asked attention Becky believe Beth Beth's Bill body breathing brother called cancer closed comfort continued course dance daughter David death didn't died doctor door dying early especially expression eyes face father fear feel felt final friends Gabbi gone hand happened happy hear heart holding hospice Houston joke keep kind knew later laughing leave less letter live looked mean Michigan morning morphine mother moved never night nurse once pain parents patient Paula person rabbi remember respond returned Russ seemed sense she'd side sister sleep someone soon sorrow soul standing stopped story suffering talk tell there's things thought tion tired told took trial trouble turned voice waiting walk wanted watched weeks woman wonder
References to this book
Dying, Bereavement and the Healing Arts
Limited preview - 2007