When it rains by Maggie MacKellar

Like every book that tells the story of one person’s grief, Maggie Mackellar’s, When it Rains, is unique.  It is unique in every way; the death she experiences of her husband and then a short two years later, her beloved mother.  It is unique in Maggie’s immediate response to pack up her city life, her career as a lecturer in history and move to her family farm in country NSW.  It is unique in many of her personal circumstances and ways of coping and working through these over a period of years.

It is also, though, a book that will resonate with many in our attempts to understand this thing called grief and how we can navigate our way through the deep, dark places that grief often takes us.

When It Rains is a deeply reflective and intelligent book that explores one person’s immense grief over two people she loved who died in very different circumstances.  It explores the confusion and chaos of her husband’s death that is seemingly chosen (though influenced greatly by mental illness), in comparison with her mother’s death through cancer.  We gain glimpses into the enormity of pain and isolation created and felt, and come to understand through Maggie’s intimate insights, the ways in which she chews over grief that is thwarted by unanswerable questions.  I am reminded of Rilke’s invitation to the young poet where he wistfully invites him to “be patient toward all that is unsolved… and try to love the questions themselves…” 

One of these questions emerges from Maggie reflection on the funeral of her husband:

“Others farewelled him, made their peace, tried to understand, but I was a bystander.  The crowd streamed past me.  They took him with them, all their different versions of him.  But I was left standing on the side because now he was dead I didn’t know him anymore.  I had no idea who it was I needed to say goodbye to.”  Pg. 123

Maggie draws on authors, such as C.S. Lewis, who have reflected on their own loss and grief and are garnered into a place of hope and healing along with Maggie as she explores the finality of death around and within her.  This is met, however, with the hope she prays will rise within her and point her towards the future – “Because I prayed this word: I want” (from:  If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, 22 used in Chapter 19). 

Maggie’s reconnection with the land that her parents and grandparents farmed, her need to care for two young children ostensibly on her own, and her inner capacity to reflect and grow through her pain, become the redeeming ingredients for her slow, grounding, healing.

This book, I believe, offers fresh, raw and honest insights into some of the deep complexities that often sit around a death that is perceived as a choice.  It also reveals the love of a daughter for their mother in a way that is sharp, insightful and deeply moving.