Memoir: The Grace and the Torment
The Grace and the Torment: In Search of Wilmeth is a memoir-in-progress about my late grandmother, Wilmeth. Part memoir, part detective story, part social history, the book is inspired by my family’s secrets—Wilmeth’s suicide in 1965; my father’s silence about it; and my childhood visions and dreams of the ghost of my deceased grandmother. It uses Wilmeth’s suicide (at the age of 48) as the locus for an exploration into the nature of inheritance, family history, and the consequences that long-held secrets and trauma can have across generations.
Using personal letters, photographs, diaries, archival records, interviews, and official documents, this book enters the complicated era of 1960s Washington, D.C., and looks at the life of a woman aching to be more than just a housewife. Science and biology also inform this writing, including the emerging field of transgenerational epigenetics, which studies how we inherit ancestral experiences via changes to our genetic code. I use my award-winning journalism and creative-writing skills to tackle my most compelling assignment: unraveling the story of my brilliant but troubled grandmother and reconciling my father’s secrecy. Ultimately, this is a detective story of the human heart. It is an attempt to resolve the mysteries of what we inherit and to understand how we inhabit our present while living with the ghosts of our past.
The essays "On Nostalgia" and "Notes from a Suicide" are pulled from this work-in-progress.