Ten Minutes from Home written by Beth Greenfield (Harmony Books)
Beth Greenfield’s memoir, Ten Minutes from Home, is a gripping and thoughtful portrait of grief and how it can tear a family apart and bring it back together.
The prologue opens with Greenfield as an adult attending her grandmother’s funeral — a sad occasion, of course, but the family also recognizes and understands the difference between the death of a person who lived a full life and one where the life was cut short. What is most painful about the day is the way it quietly returns everyone to the tragic and devastating accident which years ago killed Greenfield’s seven-year-old brother, Adam, and her thirteen-year-old best friend, Kristin.
The accident occurred as the family was returning home from Greenfield’s dance recital (“’Kristin would still be here if it wasn’t for you,’ Kristin’s sister later tells Greenfield) and a drunk driver struck their car. In the hospital with a broken leg, Greenfield immediately learned of her brother’s death: “I felt as if I must have misheard, as if there was a definition of ‘gone’ that I wasn’t aware of, as if that doctor was a fool and didn’t even know who Adam was and was talking to the wrong mother.”
Unlike Adam, however, Greenfield was not told of Kristin’s death until days later. The motivation was to protect her, to help her process one loss before having to deal with the next, but in the end the withholding added an additional layer of resentment and mistrust to her grief. Years later, Greenfield would randomly run into one of the nurses who had been advised not to reveal Kristin’s death and she explained that she “left nursing shortly after that time because it was all too painful, much to do with me, and my family, and my grief, and the lying over Kristin.”
Grief is a messy process and Greenfield captures her own struggle honestly and sharply as she comes of age in the wake of the accident. When she finally does return home from the hospital, she soon sees that she is now the “girl who survived the accident.” It is an enormous responsibility and title to hold — at home, school, and in her neighborhood where Kristin’s family also lived.
Part of this title, Greenfield writes, was understanding her anger and jealousy over her mother’s ability to articulate her grief: “Here’s how I saw it: My mom was falling apart. Disappearing. But instead of vanishing instantly, like Adam and Kristin had, she was disintegrating at an excruciatingly slow yet certain pace.”
In high school Greenfield turned to alcohol to try to find relief, though mostly it just tore her further away from her parents. At one point she considered suicide as an option — and though she recognized that she couldn’t put her parents through another loss, she resented them for that exact reason: “it wasn’t fair that I couldn’t kill myself just because of them.”
Ten Minutes from Home powerfully depicts a tragic accident and its devastating aftereffects, but Greenfield also shows the family’s slow movement back to each other. It is not recovery — there is no recovering from something like this — but in the end there is relief and there is empathy. A compelling memoir of survival.