A novel about Vivian, a young Irish girl sent by rail from a New York City tenement to Minnesota in the early 1900s. She was one of thousands of abandoned children sent to live with rural families for a better life. But not all ended up in loving homes.
A memoir about treasuring and losing a friend. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gail Caldwell tells how the extraordinary bond she shared with her best friend has endured, even after death.
- Gail Caldwell the author of "A Strong West Wind" and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism in 2001.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gail Caldwell writes at the outset of her new memoir, "It's an Old Story," "I had a friend and we shared everything and then she died and so we shared that." The former Boston Globe book critic looks back on her life while remembering her best friend, Caroline Knapp, who died of lung cancer in 2002. It's the story of how an extraordinary bond between friends can endure even after death. Her new book is titled, "Let's Take the Long Way Home" and Gail Caldwell joins me in the studio.
MS. DIANE REHMYou are, of course, invited to join the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850, send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Gail Caldwell, congratulations to you. I understand this is going to be number seven on the New York Times book review this coming Sunday.
MS. GAIL CALDWELLWell, I think it's the Sunday after, but yes, we're very pleased to find that out.
REHMSunday after, you get those things very early on, don't you?
CALDWELLThey find out -- I suppose they find out about ten days ahead of time, yes.
REHMIsn't that something? Congratulations. Tell us about your friend, Caroline Knapp.
CALDWELLOh, God, where do I get to start? We became friends in the mid '90s when we were two passionately involved women with our puppies and that was the beginning of a long and intense and profoundly symmetrical relationship.
REHMSo you literally met over your puppies. What kind of puppy did you have?
CALDWELLI had a Samoyed, a beautiful white marshmallow of a dog named Clementine.
REHMAnd she had?
CALDWELLAnd she had a rescue dog named Lucille, who was a German shepherd mix.
REHMAnd you were simply out walking one day?
CALDWELLWell, you know, we had met actually once before because we were both writers in the Greater Boston area and someone had introduced us, but it was more perfunctory than pleasure simply because we were at some bookish thing and we said, hello, and passed on. And then another friend who was a dog trainer said -- you know, she said to me, do you know Caroline Knapp? You remind me of each other. And she was the first of many people later in our lives to say that because I think there was something spookily similar about the two of us.
CALDWELLAnd Cathy said, you should really try to get together, and then I saw Caroline, probably a month later, with her new puppy. And from -- we just went together like -- I started to say a couple of magnets, but a pencil to a magnet and began a friendship that would last until she – well, beyond her death, for the next six years.
REHMThose friendships are so important on so many levels. Not just the sharing, it is the intensity of similarities of understanding that I think create the best friendships.
CALDWELLYes. I think they're -- and there's an intensity that I think is crucial and also an honesty, I think, that Caroline and I both had because of our age and our experience, we had come together at a time when each of us was single, though she was in a short hiatus from her long-term relationship. And neither of us had kids and I think that we had a very strong commitment to the friendship from the beginning. A lot of people have said to me since the book came out that they're conscious of how rare the friendship was and I know that and I cherish it because of it, but I think that we also knew that to last, it would be work as any friendship, as any relationship is.
REHMOh boy, I should say. Were there any differences that you did have to work through?
CALDWELLYou mean difficulties?
CALDWELLWell, I look back now and you know when I was writing, Caroline was such a, such a wonderful presence for me in the writing of this book and I would find myself romanticizing her, which of course is very easy to do after somebody is gone and you love them. And I could hear her going, oh please! You have to tell the truth. (laugh) And so we had, we -- you know, I think about it now and I cringe to remember this. I think, I think I'm a better friend now than I was at the beginning of our friendship because we challenged and solved so many things for each other.
REHMFor each other?
CALDWELLFor each other and we were able to resolve so much together. If I were prickly or too sensitive or too snappish and -- or Caroline might have been the same way and either of us could say to the other one, I'm really upset about, fill in the blank. And it didn't matter if it was minor or huge. I think that each of us had the commitment to stay in the room with that sort of tension and make it okay before we moved on.
REHMThat's so important.
CALDWELLI think it's crucial.
REHMThat willingness to open yourself to not only your own anger or your own sadness, but someone else's at the same time.
CALDWELLI think that willingness, your -- that's the key word, is the willingness to be able to hear it and accept it and I learned a lot about that from Caroline.
REHMYou write in "Let's Take the Long Way Home," which is a lovely phrase because it's one that, I gather, both of you used from time to time in order to extend your walks, to extend the time you enjoyed together.
CALDWELLThat's right. That's right.
REHMSo you would take a longer route and in that time, be able to flesh out what was on your mind. You write in the book that each of you had had previous problems with alcohol.
REHMPrevious problems with relationships. Did you come together out of those similarities? Would those have brought you closer together, do you think?
CALDWELLI'm sure they brought us closer together. I think it was serendipitous that we had those things in common after we had connected. Now, I, of course, knew about Caroline's past with alcohol because she had just written, "Drinking, A Love Story" and I knew that she was reeling from the unexpected recognition that she got for that book. What she didn't know was that I had not had a drink in 12 years when we met and that I had a great deal of empathy for what she had written in that book, which I shared with her a few months after our friendship began.
CALDWELLSo we came together, I think, based on those, the more nuanced similarities and then turned out to have a great deal in common on a very -- probably our most core sensibility was very similar.
REHMWhy do you think that dogs became such an important part of not only how you met, but your relationship and your writing in the book?
CALDWELLWell, it's funny. I can hear Caroline sort of smiling and thinking about this as you ask it. I've -- and I -- it's not presumptuous, I think, for me to speak for her here because she wrote about it so much in her own book. I feel that Caroline's foray into the world of dogs opened her up to love in a way that was absolutely extraordinary to her. And the same thing was happening to me in a different way with less, perhaps, previous hurt involved. I had had animals in my life. I had grown up with two parents who had grown up on farms, so I was much more familiar with animal love than when I got Clementine than Caroline was, but each of us had just fallen head over heels and to our shock and almost dismay, sometimes, you know, it was, like, oh, my God, what have I? I've just tumbled down the rabbit hole.
CALDWELLAnd we understood that about each other and I think that in a funny way, that the -- that our love for the dogs -- I mean, I suppose that women might say this who bond over, who have new kids in the park and become lifelong friends. Maybe there's a way that the, that the children expand the possibilities of the relationship and in our sense, it became a very thick pack of four instead of a pack of two because each of us loved the other and we all four loved the other three. And when I say that, I mean her dog loved me and my dog and all the combinations thereof.
REHMYou know, it's so interesting, not long ago, my husband and I moved into a condo and there are other small dogs in that condo and I had a friend there say to me the other day, I had no idea how much I was going to fall in love with my little dog. She said, I kiss his paws, I kiss him as I'm walking. I tell him how much I love him. It is extraordinary how -- I mean, and I have my dog and feel the same way, so it really is extraordinary and I think you've put your finger on it when you say the dog helps you to expand your ability to love and to be generous with that love.
REHMGail Caldwell, she's the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Her new book is titled, "Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship." Do join us, I look forward to your calls, your comments.
REHMHere's our first e-mail from Mike in Raleigh who says, "I'm a 70-year-old man who read your book this past weekend and loved it very much. I would like to think most men, like me, envy anyone who has had such a life changing friendship." And of course we're talking now about Gail Caldwell's new book, "Let's Take The Long Way Home" about her wonderful, just absolutely delightful friendship with her friend, Caroline Knapp, who died of lung cancer in 2002. I would think an e-mail like that would make you feel awfully good.
CALDWELLIt does. It's lovely and it's very gratifying.
REHMRead for us from the book about Caroline.
CALDWELLThis is a little part about the beginning of our friendship. "The first several months that Caroline and I knew each other come back to me with the scent of winter. The crisp but distinctively east coast aura of snow and city streets and radiator heat. I gave her fur-lined mittens in November on her birthday. A few weeks later, we both begged off other Thanksgiving plans then cooked a roast chicken together after a day in the woods with the dogs. The weather got worse and colder and we adjusted our schedules accordingly. She taught me how to walk across frozen trails and sideways down steep hills, digging my feet into the terrain. I taught her the freestyle in an indoor pool, coaxing her to lay her face in the water to learn to regulate her breathing, while she stood there cursing me and shivering."
CALDWELL"It seems to me now that Caroline was always cold. After the anorexia of her 20s, she had stayed on the thin side of normal and she would show up for our walks swaddled in layers of fleece. As often as possible we headed for the woods at the reservoir, but sometimes in the evening when the New England sun had disappeared at an early hour, we would sneak into the Harvard athletic fields near where I lived at the time so that the dogs could have an open space to run. The fields backed onto a public housing project separated by a high dilapidated chain link fence. Getting onto the hallowed grounds was a two-person job. One of us lifted the fence where it had come loose over a ditch, while the other rolled under it with the dogs, then held it up from the other side. Our trespass was illegal as well as rough. It was the kind of thing I had done all the time as a girl in Texas and I was glad that Caroline was willing. For all of her exploits in the drinking world, she still possessed a good-girl quality that I had never been able to muster."
REHMGail Caldwell reading from her new book, "Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to join us on Twitter or on Facebook. You know, as I think about friendship, you write so intensely about this friendship, not only its beginnings and its growth, it's almost a memoir of love. It goes beyond friendship, do you think?
CALDWELLI think friendship is love. I think that the deepest friendships are possibly as intense a relationship as we have in our lives. It just may be a different kind of love.
REHMA different kind of love.
CALDWELLWell, which is to say it's not romantic or it's not contractual or -- but, you know, the people I know with the longest, best marriages always say, oh, he or she is my best friend.
CALDWELLSo I think that intimacy itself is a whole country and, you know, sometimes it's with a four-legged creature and sometimes it's with a husband.
REHMThis is really the first time you've written about your own experience with alcohol.
REHMHow did that begin and how were you able to, not only turn yourself around but then, begin to write about it?
CALDWELLWell, you mean how did the decision to write about it begin? I actually think Caroline was my moral compass for that because I had sworn that I would never write about it. And then I began the undertaking of this book, which was -- the dividing rod, really, was my relationship with her. That's what got me headed in that direction. And then I -- once I began I went, oh, my God, I have to write about my drinking. And I could hear her going, you can't do this and not write about your drinking. It would be dishonesty by omission.
CALDWELLAnd that was -- I mean, I felt that it was a one-way arrow. I mean, I really had to do it. And I thought that it would be more difficult than it was. And, in fact, once I began the actual writing of that part, I thought, this is a great story. You know, narrative always trumps ego, our privacy, I think, when a writer is really hell-bent on something. This story superseded whatever feelings of -- I might have about keeping that private.
REHMAnd you also write about Caroline's anorexia.
CALDWELLYes. I'd learned a lot from her about anorexia. She had recovered from it with great difficulty and strength. And probably most of what I know about anorexia I learned from her.
REHMHow old was she when the anorexia became part of her life?
CALDWELLShe was young. She was in her probably late teens. I think it was when she was at college and she struggled through with the help of a beloved therapist who remained close to her and to me throughout her life, who I got to know when Caroline was ill, who was an expert on eating disorders. And she, I think, had -- she once wrote that she had rowed her way out of anorexia, that she learned so much to love her own body and strength that she had rowed her way out of it on the Charles River, so that too became a great gift between us. We swapped sports and Caroline...
CALDWELL...taught me how to row and I taught her how to swim. And I think that that was a beautiful stair step towards self regard that we both possessed, that we were able to trade.
REHMThat scene of you learning to row for the first time in that narrow, narrow little boat and you kept saying, I'm going to fall, I'm going to tumble.
REHMAnd she kept, you're not, you're not.
REHMBut you did.
CALDWELLI did and I think she wanted me to. And I...
REHMAnd she laughed.
CALDWELLShe laughed. Well, I was sitting in a -- I had on my swimsuit and we were on a lake in New Hampshire when it happened and I actually think she -- I was not afraid to flip, which is partly what every rower has to be willing to experience when they get in a boat that thin. And I think that Caroline wanted me to experience the beauty of rowing, but she also wanted me, as she later said, to see how hard it was, so I only made it upright for maybe four -- three or four minutes before I went tumbling into the lake.
REHMAnd she kept telling you to look straight ahead.
REHMYou were looking at the water.
REHMAnd she wanted you to look at your hands and look straight ahead.
CALDWELLI can still hear her voice. I can hear her saying, no, you're not. She was the most sort of deadpan consolation. I can hear her saying, look at me, look at me. And I still row. Here I am...
CALDWELL...however many years, this is 15 years later. I can still sometimes hear her saying that or when I get distracted on the river and I start to cast my head aside I can remember Caroline saying, look at your hands, look at me.
REHMWhen you think about your own difficulty with alcohol, does that go back to your family? Is there some inheritance of a problem like that?
CALDWELLOh, God, yes. The number of people in my extended family -- well, I grew up in Texas and there there's a sort of whiskey myth that accompanies alcoholism. I think that probably shielded me from the truth for many years, but there are a number of people on both sides of my family who drank well and too much. And my own parent -- I think it skips a generation. I did not grow up in an alcoholic family, but I certainly had numbers of people in the extended family who had died from it, so I earned it. I earned my -- I met my quota early, as I like to say.
REHMHow old were you when the problem with addiction began?
CALDWELLWell, I was 14 when I took my first drink and I think I had a problem, but didn't know it. I thought, this is great, this can make life really worth living. And I later understood that -- and, you know, I don't think I was a necessarily unhappy child. I was a shy, kind of a bookworm. I had a big old glass of bourbon and the worlds lit up and I thought, I can do life if I have this in my hand. So I -- and I think probably most people who drink don't feel that way, that strongly and immediately. And it was to become my accompaniment for the next 18, 19 years. And of course, as is always the case with alcohol, there's the old story about first the -- what is it, the drink takes the -- the man takes the drink, the drink takes the drink and then the drink takes the man. And obviously, substitute woman for that because it gets all of us. It tried to take me, too. And so it was almost 20 years before I was able to crawl out of that cell.
REHMCaroline's personality was also an addictive one. If you go back to the anorexia and to the alcoholism, do you think that that's part of what drew the two of you so closely together?
CALDWELLI absolutely think the understanding that we had each achieved from dealing with the dark loneliness of those struggles was part of what brought us together. I think that each of us would have argued in different ways whether, you know, it's -- do genes beget personality or vice versa. We each had a number of reasons in our past, be they genetic or environmental, that put us in those places. And I learned from her that anorexia was an addiction, which I did not understand, I think, until we became friends, but I think it was the strength that I knew that I had seen and would see Caroline exhibit, the extraordinary strength of character. And the compassion that probably each of us had earned from what we had been through was central to our friendship.
REHMPulitzer Prize-winning writer, Gail Caldwell; her new book, "Let's Take The Long Way Home" will be number seven on the New York Times Best Seller list on September the 12th. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Tell me how Caroline found out she was sick and how she related that to you.
CALDWELLOh, God. Unfortunately, she did not have to relate it to me. I was there when the doctor came out of the surgery where they had done a bronchoscopy. Caroline had been ill throughout a bad New England winter and she was 42 years old and we thought that she had...
REHM...or something of that sort.
CALDWELLYeah, a bronchitis that would not go away. And they finally, after weeks of antibiotics and efforts to cure the pneumonia did a bronchoscopy and found a, what turned out to be, inoperable tumor on her lung. And I was in the surgical recovery room when the doctor came out and said -- described the tumor and described it as necrotic and inoperable, words that no one ever wants to hear. And I still remember the light in the room. I don't know why this happens, there's something -- light gets brighter in the midst of horrendous life-changing news. And so by the time -- then I was with Caroline in the elevator going back to her room, so that was in April and she was gone by early June.
CALDWELLIt's stunning. I think that everybody who loved her was reeling for a year just by the fact of how swiftly we went from a cough to a memorial service.
REHMAnd the idea that perhaps there were many other friends in that circle who knew her well enough to grieve.
CALDWELLYes. I'm glad you mentioned that. I got a letter actually yesterday from someone who I know peripherally but not well and she had written to say something about the book. And she said something about the way she had seen us together at the pond over the years and she said, "and I was one of the hundreds of people at her service at Mount Auburn that day." And I think that one of the things that still makes me happy and sad at the same time is remembering how many people loved her because I think Caroline had this extraordinary ability to connect with people through her writing, as well as personally.
REHMAnd so I gather she spent most of her last weeks in the hospital?
CALDWELLShe spent some of -- let's see, I think she probably spent three weeks in the hospital and then was in chemo and radiation and went home for awhile. And then a series of mishaps or a constellation of bad symptoms began and she went back to the hospital in mid-May and would never leave.
REHMA constellation of bad symptoms.
CALDWELLWell, she had what began as a series of bleeds in the brain. And so from -- she married her long-time boyfriend and relationship Mark Morelli in early May and then I had to fly to Austin, Texas and while I was gone, I found out that this had happened and that was in mid-May. And she had gone to the hospital by ambulance and that was three weeks before she died.
REHMSo I gather you were with her at the end. Very tough. Gail Caldwell and we're talking about her brand-new book. It's titled "Let's Take the Long Way Home."
REHMWelcome back and if you just joined us, Gail Caldwell is telling the beautiful story of her friendship with a woman who died of lung cancer at age 44.
REHMForty-two. Her book is titled “Let's Take the Long Way Home.” Let's go first to Amy who's in Exeter, N.H. Good morning to you.
AMYYes. Good morning, thank you.
AMYGail, this is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read.
CALDWELLOh, my God, thank you.
AMYAnd I cried throughout and read it literally in one day. And just as an aside, I ordered it electronically and I loved it so much, I bought it in hardcover.
AMYI love it. It's a beautiful, beautiful book. My question for you is this. There were obviously two deaths that get addressed in this book. One of your beautiful friend, Caroline, and one of your beautiful dog, Clementine. And when I was reading it, I was wondering. It almost felt to me like it was harder to write about Clementine's death. I was dreading it as a reader because I thought, oh no, so much will be ended when -- when that happened. And I wondered as a writer if you experienced that and did you write it chronologically?
CALDWELLI did experience it. I -- I don't know that it was harder to write about. It was probably more piercing because it was more recent. And I think you're right. I think that it closed a chapter that I did not want to close and, in fact, I couldn't end the book for a long time for that reason. I had about -- I knew I only had 10 or 15 pages left and I -- I would sit in a chair and think, I'm not going to write that yet. When I write it it'll be over. And I could not bear to finish the book.
REHMThere's a scene in the book after Caroline's death when you are out walking with Clementine in the park and two pit bulls attack Clementine. Describe what happened.
REHMIt was terrifying.
CALDWELLI don't know if I can describe it without my heart racing even now. We both lived, obviously. They -- there were two dogs who were off lead and should not have been. And my beautiful eight-year-old was very docile and standing next to me and they came running at us across a field and knocked me down and went after her. It was her they were interested in. And attacked her and tore her up pretty well. And I walked into the fight and had no effect whatsoever, obviously, on these two dogs who, as my friend, Peter, later said. I said, I can't believe I couldn't protect her. And he said, the only thing that would have protected her would have been a gun that day. Because they were so completely -- I mean, pit bulls are actually -- their genetics are to be able to go after and take down other dogs, so we managed to get away from that and my girl crossed four streets to make her way home, which was the most important thing.
REHMUnbelievable. First she ran off into the woods and you got on the phone, called friends. Someone called you back and you thought it's either good or horrible news.
REHMAnd she had managed to get back home.
CALDWELLOh, I can still -- I can still hear him saying, I've got her. And I completely collapsed because I knew she was okay.
REHMNow, someone else wants to know what happened to Lucille, Caroline's dog?
CALDWELLWonderful Lucille. Lucille stayed with Morelli, who adored her and had been her...
CALDWELLCaroline's boyfriend and then husband and had been connected to Lucille from the day Caroline brought her home, so he was her -- he was her other significant other. And he took Lucille and she lived a very happy life with him until last summer. So she lived to be 14.
REHMOh, I'm glad. Here's an email from Emily in Bethesda, Md. She says, “I recently read an upsetting article in The New York Times describing how teachers, schools and camps have begun to discourage best friendships from forming. I've always had a best friend in my life. It's been unendingly enriched by these girls now women. Do you think that the drawbacks of friendships exclusivity over dependence are enough to merit counseling against them?”
CALDWELLCertainly not from my point of view. You know, I do not know well enough now. Somebody did say something to me recently about what they described as the codependency and some other quality, not exclusivity, of women's friendships and I thought, God, they certainly weren't called that when I was a girl.
CALDWELLI mean I remember all kinds of sins committed in the name of friendship from the time I was young, six or seven or eight years old on, but I don't -- I don't know. I think that for me, the intimacy and the connectedness outweigh whatever dysfunctional new words are being given.
REHMOf course, Margaret Atwood has...
REHM...written “Cat's Eye.” Talk about destructive friendships, but that somehow presented itself as a ruthless formation of a gang of girls.
CALDWELL“Lord of the Flies” for girls.
CALDWELLYes, it really was.
CALDWELLAnd Caroline and I used to talk about that book. We would both cringe simultaneously.
REHMAt which -- “Cat's Eye.”
CALDWELLTerrifying and, I think, every girl it strikes a chord with.
CALDWELLEither because they were...
CALDWELLYeah, well, that's what I mean.
CALDWELLEveryone who was ever a girl, they were either the hero or the victim...
CALDWELL...or the bystander...
CALDWELL...or sometimes the mean one, yeah.
REHMWhat about male friendships; what do you see happening there? I was telling you during the break that my husband enjoys friendships through me, but has very few men...
REHM...with whom he has any kind of intimate friendship.
CALDWELLYou know, it's funny. Somebody recently told me that they thought that Caroline and I had a relatively gender-free friendship and I think what they were referring to was the fact that we had a competition between us that we both actually enjoyed and there were sports and dogs and there was -- there were traditional male-ish pursuits that we had. I don't think there was anything gender-free about it because I don't think -- well, now, I'll go out on a limb and say this. I don't think men generally form the sort of intimate attachment that we had here. Or rather, I think it's much more difficult for them for a lot of reasons. They're -- at least in the last couple of generations are not encouraged to have that sort of emotional intimacy, at least verbalized, so I know a couple of men who've said they really envied the friendship that we had.
REHMAll right. To Indianapolis and to Mary, good morning, you're on the air.
MARYGood morning. What a wonderful program.
MARYMs. Caldwell, I was wanting to get your advice. I am just coming out of a bit -- an abusive, very controlling marital relationship that I was in for 25 years.
MARYAnd I'm afraid to let others in my life. I love this friendship that you have had and I think -- I can see how it made you a better person. I would like that also.
MARYAny advice on that?
CALDWELLI think congratulations on your ability to get out of a situation that's that hard and that long. And I think -- my guess is -- I don't know, but my guess is part of how you might have gotten out of it is with some -- the help of somebody. Whether it was family or support groups or -- I mean, I tend to come from a tradition of having found my way out of alcoholism and other sorrows that mostly we do that with other people, so if you're afraid to let people in, start slow. You know, all it takes is one step forward, whether it's a support group or a call to a therapist or a friend who you knew 15 years ago that you want to have coffee with. I tend to think that if we can do any escape in small increments is what counts.
REHMGood luck to you, Mary. And to Montpelier, Ohio, good morning, Lindsey.
LINDSEYGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
LINDSEYI have not read this book, but it sounds tremendously intriguing to me. I have had a short lifetime full of best friends and I was wondering could -- can Gail tell us a bit more about the profound effect it must have had on her to see the end of her best friend's earthly life and also, one more quick thing. Did -- also, Gail, did you ever notice Caroline's attitude change to accommodate her illness or her dismal diagnosis? I'm glad to take my answer off the air. Thank you.
CALDWELLOh, God, go straight to the heart of the beast. Of course, Caroline had to change. It's like change -- learning how to fly midair. She had to change in relation to the news that she had gotten. And I -- I feel that because of our friendship -- I still remember her calling me from the hospital one day when she had gone downstairs and it was 8 a.m. and she'd just found out that week. And she didn't feel bad yet. She knew she had a terminal diagnosis, but she actually felt pretty good because they had her on antibiotics. And the phone rang at, like, probably a quarter of 8:00 and I said, are you okay? I grabbed the phone and said, are you okay? And she said, yes, I've run away. I'm thinking of going for a row. (laugh) And Caroline was always hilariously funny and she managed to be for all of her life, so I think that I will say seriously that my being able to be with her in the last weeks of her life was one of the hardest and best experiences of my life. And when I say best, I mean only that it was an honor to be able to do it.
REHMYou were there at the hospital.
CALDWELLMost of the time. Her -- she -- well, I was there, I was there up until close to the end and the last probably 17 days were simply the -- that dark long corridor of suffering that the dying often are in.
REHMGail Caldwell and your listening to "The Diane Rehm Show.” Would you read for us the portion regarding grief that we talked about earlier? I think it's page 154 -- one, yeah.
CALDWELLOne fifty, I believe. “The only education in grief that any of us ever get is a crash course. Until Caroline died, I had belonged to that other world, the place of innocence and linear expectations, where I thought grief was a simple, wrenching realm of sadness and longing that gradually receded. What that definition left out was the body blow that loss inflicts, as well as the temporary madness and a range of less straight forward emotions shocking in their intensity. I would move as though I were under water for weeks, maybe months, but those first few days between the death and memorial service were a dazed cascade of tears and surprises."
CALDWELL"A part of me went through the appropriate motions with frightening alacrity, finding the poem to read at the chapel on Friday morning, practicing it aloud. But another part of me had this simple conviction that I wouldn't be able to get from point A to point B. That giving her over in spirit and in public was as perplexing and unfathomable as string theory. My old friend, Pete, out of town when she died, called from Ohio to see how I was. I told him what I had been afraid to say. 'I don't think I can do it,' I said, about getting through the service the next day. 'I don't know how to do it.' He was quiet for a minute and then he said something of such consolation, that I will hear him saying it forever, 'You know, Gail,' he said, 'we've been doing this as a species for a long time. And it's almost as if -- it's like the body just knows what to do.'”
REHMAnd did you get through it?
CALDWELLWell, I'm here today. You know, we all get through, whether we think we can. The amazing thing to me is that we believe that we cannot and then you look up and time has won out once again in five minutes or five days have passed, so, you know, what was Dylan Thomas' great phrase, “The green fuse that drives the flower.” There is some need to keep going, in spite of our terrors that we won't be able to.
REHMAnd she's still with you.
CALDWELLOh, wonderfully. You know, this is the thing that it takes a long time to realize and I think that part of the joy for me -- a friend of mine said, I'm so worried this is going to be wrenching for you to write this book. And I was, I was beaming because I'd just made the decision to write it and had begun taking reams and reams of notes and I said, are you kidding? I get to spend the next two years with her.
CALDWELLAnd it was really true in a surprisingly continuing and joyous way.
REHMBecause you could hear her voice.
CALDWELLAbsolutely. I still can.
REHMHave you gotten yourself a new dog?
CALDWELLI do. I have a new dog who's not even new anymore. She's two years old and she's as full of fire as any puppy anybody ever had.
REHMWhat kind of a dog?
CALDWELLShe's another Samoyed. You know, they say the definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and so I'm -- I'm back in the world of Samies and her name is Tulla and she's two years old.
REHMAnd you have a new best friend?
CALDWELLNo. I still have the same best friend.
REHMGail Caldwell. Her new book is titled, “Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship.” Beautiful book, Gail.
CALDWELLThank you so much, Diane.
REHMThank you. Thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show” is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, Podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
Most Recent Shows
An estimated 11 million Americans could see their disability benefits slashed next year if Congress fails to take action. The White House and Republican lawmakers have opposing solutions. Social Security's disability fund and how to keep the program solvent.
There's a renewed push for apprenticeship programs in the U.S., one supporters say can address a shortage of skilled workers and the financial burden on young people today.
The Centers for Disease Control reported the number of Americans who died from heroin overdoses quadrupled in the decade ending in 2013. We look at what's behind the nation's surge in heroin addiction and what some communities are doing to fight back.