Its time for Part II of our Limberlost series! I actually find Elnora’s mother, Kate, to be one of the most intriguing characters in the book. Those of you who commented that you plan to read the book, this will contain some plot spoilers so you may wish to wait and read it in the future!
We meet Kate Comstock as she is sending her daughter off to her first day at the High School in the nearby town. She is critical of Elnora’s appearance and we later learn has intentionally witheld information from her in hopes of souring her educational dreams with reality. Her bitterness is mystifying for the reader. We know throughout the tale that she lost her husband while Elnora was an infant and that she has memorialized him by refusing to cut timber on their land, keeping his clothing in place in her room, and on many nights weeping openly and loudly for him at the edge of the swamp where she helplessly watched him drown. We eventually learn that her weakness from childbirth left Kate unable help her husband when he was drowning, leading to the wedge of grief between her and her child–a grief that she has nurtured and kept alive over the years.
The author does a wonderful job of allowing us to see that Kate is not merely driven by bitterness but also exudes strength as a woman who values self-reliance and wisdom. Most likely she would always have been austere and practical in how she expressed emotion, spent money, and related with others. We are given glimpses into the good parts of Kate–the woman who is secretly hurt when her daughter seeks out others for comfort, who is surprised at the magnitude of her daughter’s accomplishments, who is slowly softening towards her daughter, though she barely recognizes it in herself. It is tempting to hate her and yet we see how not all that she does for her daughter is misguided, even when it stings. The reader is not allowed to be comfortable in bitterness either.
The turning point in Kate’s life comes when her sister-in-law finally reveals the truth that Kate’s husband died because he was trying to avoid being seen returning from the house of another woman. This truth shatters Kate’s glorified image of the man she was married to for barely one year and frees her to reach out and love the living. We see Kate become free to enjoy life, enjoy her daughter’s talents, take pride in her appearance, and cease living in fear.
There is a beautiful image in the book where Kate asks Elnora to play the violin for her, (Elnora having hidden the talent she inherited from her father for many years), and we see Kate begin to dance in the moonlight. Whether it is intentional or not, it brings to mind the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes 3 that contrasts the time for mourning with a time for dancing. Learning the truth about her husband was a catalyst, but she had made many small changes along the way that had chipped away at her bitterness and had the humility to let go when she realized her grief was hung on a hollow image.
She stands as both reminder and warning to examine the grief and resentment we hold close to our hearts. Grief is normal and will be part of certain seasons of life. It is healthy to walk through the sadness and anger with the understanding that there is a new life on the other side–one partly shaped by the grief–but life indeed. Kate chose to keep the grief alive rather than to walk through it and resume emotionally connecting with others. Be aware if your grief begins excusing you from engaging in life and loving those around. The good news is that there is always space for healing and for claiming the future years for many a dance in the moonlight.
Take-out Version: Grief is normal, grief is good, grief can bring change, but grief that isolates and embitters should be examined.