Death is a familiar muse for Rita Moir.
In 2010, Moir’s mother Erin and her sister Judy were each scheduled to undergo heart surgeries within the same week. Moir and her siblings travelled to St. Paul, Minn., to support the pair and prepare for the possibility one or both might die.
The family already had plenty of experience with illness and death. The passing of Moir’s father was the subject of her 2005 memoir The Windshift Line, and the family had also carried Judy through the deaths of two sons.
So when Moir, her sister Donna and brothers Andy and Brian convened in St. Paul, they settled into care routines that were already practiced.
“I think by the time you reach this age, it’d be very unusual not to have dealt with grief,” says Moir, now 69. “I think our family found its way with a certain stoicism and also a certain humour.”
Not Of Reason: A Recipe for Outrunning Sadness documents the Slocan Valley writer’s perspective on the unexpected death of Judy only a year after the surgery and Erin’s death six years later.
The book’s title, Moir says, comes from the idea that coping with grief requires finding reasons for death that extend beyond the natural course of life. Which is to say, there has to be more to death than just human bodies growing old and failing.
But those reasons aren’t immediately apparent to Moir.
Religion, for example, isn’t a solution for Moir and her agnostic family. When her nephew William died in 2002, Moir recalls being surrounded by believers who reiterated their faith that he was in a better place.
“Well no, he wasn’t in a better place,” says Moir. “He’s been having a wonderful life, he’s not in a better place being dead. But there’s also, who do you plead to when you’re desperate?”
She returns to that question in Not of Reason during an early scene at a hospital chapel. Moir writes about a nun whispering a prayer to Erin just prior to the surgery. Later from her B.C. home, Moir calls the nun to ask what the prayer was.
“I had to really struggle because there is this big thing out there that can possibly offer you such solace, if you will let yourself go there.”
But she doesn’t. Instead, Moir is guided by her mother’s advice to “opt for joy.” She finds it in her physical surroundings, such as her mother’s home in St. Paul where she describes the effort she and Judy put in to bringing order to cluttered chaos.
A longtime journalist, Moir has an eye for imagery. Her memories of the decade hang on small details such as her mother’s bobby pins, her father’s coffee pots, or an orange Husqvarna chainsaw Moir uses to cut small pines off the Slocan Valley property she was clearing with her partner Dan.
“This land is private, needs work, and challenges me,” Moir writes. “Each time I place a rock just so, or rake down to new earth, it’s like I’m giving the land a good back scratch that makes everything better.”
Being present helps Moir contend with her grief. In Not Of Reason, she makes the argument for appreciating life instead of dwelling on death.
“Either you cave, or like my mom said you opt for joy every time. Joy is work because it doesn’t come as hard and fast as grief.”
Rita Moir will read from Not Of Reason: A Recipe for Outrunning Sadness at the Castlegar and District Public Library at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 24. Pre-register by calling 250-365-6611.