Minerva's Owl: The Bereavement Phase of My Marriage
by Carol Matthews



Oolichan Books, 2017. ISBN 978-0-889-82325-9.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 01/22/2018

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Elders; Nonfiction: Relationships

Carol Matthews, a labyrinth walker, has found the writing of her memoir to be like walking a labyrinth. It was "necessary to go to the heart of things and then circle back, returning to how it all began and where it led."

By going to "the heart of things," Matthews' memoir pays homage to a marriage of 46½ years and by writing to her late husband Mike, remains connected to him and the life they shared.

At an early stage of mourning, Matthews felt like the path had disappeared and the labyrinth, which had helped her accept the road ahead when, years earlier, she had breast cancer, had become a maze. Readers will be heartened, as I was, to observe Matthews' stages as she progresses through them: Grieving, Longing, Belonging, Mourning, Cleaving and finally, Surviving.

As Matthews has taken the time to reflect and face the loneliness and reality of being alone, following her husband's death, she says, "accepting what has been broken is part of finding my way." Matthews rejects the terms "widow" or "widowhood" as she writes to MIke: "You are dead, but I'm still married to you." She is comforted by her daughter and granddaughter who "carry your living remains."

The title of the book, Minerva's Owl, refers to Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. Matthews makes many references to poets, writers and philosophers, including Hegel, who wrote that "Minerva's owl takes flight only with the twilight closing in."

While life "cannot be rejuvenated" as Hegel wrote, it can be known. Matthews' memoir begins in March 2015 when she has been thinking about C. S. Lewis's quote from A Grief Observed: "Bereavement is not the truncation of married love but one of its regular phases—like the honeymoon."

"The grief is more intense than I could have imagined," Matthews writes to Mike in the first section entitled "Grieving." "It's agonizing to be going over old memories all by myself, to be longing for you now just as I did in those early years." Unlike the early years of longing when they first met, now there is "no hope of satisfaction." Matthews reminds herself of what Rumi said: "Longing is the core of mystery. Longing itself brings the cure. The only rule is, suffer the pain."

In the section on Belonging, Matthews believes she has lost her soulmate and what she knows for sure is that she's lost her "mindmate." She misses her husband with whom she talked to about "everything."

Two years have passed when Matthews begins the stage of "Cleaving." She's still finding old shopping lists in her husband's jacket pockets and scraps of paper in desk drawers. Matthews examines words throughout her memoir and "to cleave" can mean two things: "to cling, to adhere or to split, to separate." Although Matthews is "split apart" from her husband, she still clings to him: "to shreds of memories. Our marriage now is spliced through and spliced together. Bereft and grieving, yet cleft and cleaving."

Carol Matthews' book is a very honest and intimate memoir that will be of value to those who are suffering bereavement. They'll learn they're not alone. It gives much food for thought about relationships that continue after death, and it's good for readers of any age to know that enriching relationships, such as Carol Matthews had with her late husband, are possible.


Carol Matthews is the author of four books of memoir including The First Three years of a Grandmother's Life (Relational Journal of Child and Youth Care Practice), Reflections on the C-Word (Hedgerow Press), Questions for Ariadne: The Labyrinth and the End of Times (Outlaw Editions), and a collection of short stories, Incidental Music (Oolichan Books). Her short story "The Boat, as it Happened," won Prism International's 2017 Jacob Zilber Prize for Short Fiction. She lives in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

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