This contemporary work is part fiction, and also, sadly, the truth about the untimely death of Emma Mebane, who at age 19, went to sleep one night and never awoke, or, as her mother (the author) puts it, she “relaxed to death.” In Geneva, Illinois, a Chicago suburb and Emma’s lifelong residence, the loss of this vibrant young woman was deeply felt, but no more so than within her devoted family.
This is a compellingly written, honest book about a family undertaking the long road up from unimaginable grief to a place of some peace. Emma’s mother finds herself in a dark and unrelenting depression. Emma’s dad busies himself creating small altars of remembrance from photos and other of Emma’s things. Her sister, a psychologist, must search her arsenal of coping tools in order to continue functioning; her brother, a quiet young man, struggles mightily with his grief, and an estranged brother/son returns to grieve.
The fictional aspect of the story describes Emma’s life in “AFTER,” the word the author uses to describe a secular heaven. Unlike biblical depictions of heaven as a place of peace, love, and light, in Emma’s AFTER, there are hovering relatives who explain “the rules,” tears, and Facebook entries that spur Emma to devise ways to communicate with those left behind. The author capably reproduces the voice of a young woman suddenly taken away.
What author Donna Mebane does exceedingly well is to create a poignant image of an extraordinarily close and loving family, and she brings Emma alive for those who never knew her. Readers would do well to read the “Author Notes” at the book’s conclusion first because that’s where the author’s voice is most pure as she describes the death of her beloved child and her reasons for writing this tribute.
Tears are inevitable for any reader, but comfort and encouragement, too, may be found here for those who share a similar loss.