In August 2019 my home was struck by lightning, causing substantial damage. I used to love storms and watched them with no fear. Now I endure them with trepidation. When I saw The Red Ribbon: A Memoir of Lightning and Rebuilding After Loss by Nancy Freund Bills, I had an instant connection, albeit on a different level.
Nancy Bills’ life was altered when both her husband and son were struck by lightning in July 1994. Her son survived, but her husband did not. Grief affects people differently and Bills describes her methods of coping. She visited the site, moved several times, explored new relationships, and experienced more loss. She also wrote about her grief path, which she eventually compiled into a memoir.
Bills lost her parents, extended relatives, and companions in quick succession. Grief threatened to consume her existence if she didn’t channel it or harness its energy, much like the lightning that struck her family. I liked how she wove parts of her history within the present to create a cohesive flow. I appreciated the chapters that dealt with her relationship with her aging mother and the difficulties of living halfway across the country. I did find a macabre streak of humor with the author’s description of her mother-in-law’s urn rolling around in her back seat. I also commiserated with her struggle to let go and move on with her life.
The one angle that I feel could have added context and depth to the book would have been to briefly address the cleavage in her marriage since she was separated from her husband when he died. While that wasn’t the the focus of her memoir, its omission does leave a void since she discussed how they met and portions of their life together.
Bills’ loss to such a freakish occurrence allows readers to ruminate on the perfidy of life. I saw the lightning flash across my living room and realized how easily it could have hit me. Staring death in the face is a surreal occurrence, but coping with the aftermath of loss for those who are left behind is a subject Bills grapples with, with erudition and grace.