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REVIEW: In and Out of Grief by Slocan Valley author Rita Moir

Gord Turner looks at Moir’s book about a time when illness overtakes her family and death is imminent
Rita Moir is the author of In Not of Reason: A Recipe for Outrunning Sadness. Photo submitted by Rita Moir

Slocan Valley writer Rita Moir has added a new book to her repertoire. Known mainly as an author of nonfiction, that is showing life as it is, her new book does just that.

In Not of Reason (2021), Moir focuses on her extended family once again, only this time she writes about a period where illness overtakes members of her larger family and death is imminent – and happens. The last few sections of the book describes Moir’s own grief, how overwhelming it is, and how she comes to terms with it – thus the subtitle, “A Recipe for Outrunning Sadness.”

What we have to realize about nonfiction is how real it is, how close to similar instances in our own lives it is, and how intimate it often becomes. Throughout the book, Moir hardly misses a detail about where she is, why she’s there, and who she’s focused upon. These specifics are why I got caught up in the book and couldn’t put it down.

The book looks widely at Moir’s family which is scattered all over North America – from Halifax to Winnipeg to South Slocan and Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. The centre for Not of Reason is clearly in the U.S. cities, and although brothers Andy from Halifax and Brian from Winnipeg play roles, the main players are Rita herself, her mother Erin, and her sister Judy.

Rita heads to Minnesota many times in the course of this book, mainly at first to help her sister Judy look after her mother who is ill with a major heart concern. Eventually, though, the anxiety shifts to Judy who has a more serious heart problem than her mother, and so Rita spends days and nights looking after one, then the other.

Both women have heart operations, and Rita’s mother Erin improves immensely while her sister Judy slowly deteriorates. From Rita’s perspective, we are given all the details of the final weeks and days of Judy’s demise. Her brothers are there, her mother is there, various other family members are there, but Rita seems to be the family member emotionally entwined with Judy’s final days and ultimate death.

The book clearly is written to give a full picture of Rita’s sister Judy. She has been the queen-pin of the family for many years, a larger than life character, and despite the seven years difference in her age from Rita, they are extremely close. I

n her own life, Judy ran an extremely profitable catering service, mostly for weddings, and was friends with many top Minnesota politicians, some of whom spoke at her funeral. She is referred to as the “centre of gravitational pull” for the entire family, and she is spoken of as being hospitable always and calm in every instance. Family members, particularly Rita, looked to her for acceptance, guidance, advice and much more.

When Judy dies, Rita is there for her last words. Rita is present for the entire post-death period and funeral. She is overcome with grief and carries that heavy burden with her back to her home and her partner Dan in South Slocan. It takes her three years to come to grips with her loss, and the only way she does so is to keep busy – that’s the recipe for outrunning sadness. She gets involved in cooking, take courses in yoga, create a new garden, move rocks in her yard, play piano again, set up community events, and finally train her magnificent golden retriever.

For three years, Rita agonizes over the loss of her sister. Judy died at 11:45 p.m., and Rita wakes up regularly at 11:45. She finds her sister in all sorts of situations in the community, even in others with the name of Judy. At one point, she writes a letter to Judy that she can’t send, but it makes her feel better. Staying busy, she is finally able to say, “Judy has stepped aside. Physically and metaphorically.”

I found Rita’s book to be intense and satisfying. I have been through the death of a loved one, but I’d be hard-pressed to remember all the details Rita puts together regarding her sister, both the life lived and the run-up to her end. I got so involved in the story line and in the relationships within this family that I stayed up most of one night to finish it. I enjoyed losing the sleep because I enjoyed the book.

Not of Reason is available at the Kootenay Gallery in Castlegar, Otter Books and Notably Book Emporium in Nelson, and Crockett Books in Trail.