In her newly published memoir, Oak Park native Caitlin Garvey shares with readers her very intimate quest to find understanding in her grief, having lost her mother to breast cancer during her freshmen year of college. Titled “The Mourning Report,” the book chronicles Garvey’s exploration of her lengthy battle with depression following her mother’s death. Oak Park, where her mother lived for 30 years, features heavily in the book.
“I mostly wanted to collect people’s stories to get more information about my mom and to kind of feel at peace,” said Garvey, of writing the book.
What started as a graduate school creative writing assignment became the foundation of the book. Garvey began to interview people who knew her mother, especially during the last few moments of her mother’s life, and people who regularly dealt with loss.
“I just wanted to get a sense of comfort,” said Garvey. “And what I got instead was just a lot of stories about her and that brought me a different kind of comfort.”
For her first essay, Garvey interviewed Charlie Williams, funeral director and owner of Drechsler, Brown & Williams funeral home. Williams embalmed her mother; Garvey acknowledges that could sound a tad morbid, albeit unintentionally.
“I was able to know more about my mom and figure out like more of who she was at that time,” said Garvey.
Garvey interviewed her mother’s hospice nurse, as well as her mother’s longtime hairstylist who became her mom’s close confidant. She also interviewed Rev. Thomas Dore of St.Giles CatholicParish, who administered eucharist to her mother while in hospice.
“I feel like a lot of my memories were sparked by talking to these people in the first place,” said Garvey. “There are a lot of things about my mom that I was forgetting, so it kind of forced me to remember certain things.”
In a special coincidence, “The Mourning Report” was published on Oct. 6 – right at the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Authors Rachel Jamison Webster, of “Mary is a River,” and S.L. Wisenberg, of “The Adventures of Cancer B*tch,” have praised Garvey’s debut book.
Lambda Literary Foundation listed it as one of October’s most anticipated LGBTQ books, as Garvey, who identifies as gay, details how she came to grips with not only her grief and mental health struggles but her own sexuality.
“My sexuality is something I wish I told my mom; I wish we had a conversation about it,” said Garvey. “But we never did because I was just too afraid to be out.”
Her mother’s poor health made Garvey even more reluctant to come out to her mother.
“You don’t want to feel like, ‘Oh, I’m making this about me,'” said Garvey.
The feeling of wanting to open up but not wanting to burden her mother Garvey called “very specific and confusing.”
Garvey’s mother always encouraged her and her sisters to express themselves through writing. When they were young, she would cut out sentences from newspapers and have the girls weave them into short stories they’d write.
She hopes the book will start honest conversations about depression and grief, which has no medically determined expiration date. For some, grief never truly goes away; the acuteness of it just dulls over time.
“Our grief stays with us, but most people want it to be neatly wrapped up,” said Garvey.