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Caroline Jones' manual for love and loss

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Caroline Jones: Through a Glass Darkly. ABC Books, 2009. ISBN: 9780733323980. Online

Through a Glass Darkly, by Caroline Jones, ISBN: 9780733323980 'I consider that the honest telling of my life experience is the most authentic gift I have to offer.' Caroline Jones

Caroline Jones' working life has been devoted to stories. Initially these stories were the ones we call 'news' — the large impersonal events of history as it happens.

Then her career matured into the much-loved and highly original Radio National program The Search for Meaning, and the ABC TV series Australian Story. There the stories she told, or made space for others to tell, concerned the life histories, and interior landscapes, of individual people.

She has made a vocation out of giving voice to something that would otherwise be almost mute in the cacophony of opinions, events and arguments that usually demand our attention. It is as if, in her programs, not the face but the heart of society is speaking, and it tells a completely different kind of story to the ones we are accustomed to hearing.

In two of her books, An Authentic Life (1998) and now, Through A Glass Darkly, Jones tells something of the story of her own life, though characteristically this is deeply entwined with the stories of others. Through a Glass Darkly concerns the quietly heroic life of her beloved father, and her own profound grief over his death.

Brian Newman James was born in 1907 and lived the first 11 years of his life on a property called Grattai, outside Mudgee in New South Wales, which for the rest of his life remained his spiritual home. At seven he faced many months away from his family in Sydney Children's Hospital, being treated for osteomyelitis in his right leg. Then, at 11, there was the sadness of having to leave Grattai forever, when his parents were forced to sell most of it.

A talented amateur artist and writer, he spent his working life as a reluctant accountant, volunteering to serve his country in the AIF during World War II, although, to his chagrin, he was never posted overseas.

He lived a long life with many challenges, including the suicide of his first wife, Caroline's mother, in 1969. But his final eight weeks, which began with open-heart surgery at the age of 93, and which were spent in an onerous and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to recover from it, must have been some of the most difficult of his life.

Jones raises many heartfelt questions over the experiences behind the modern miracles of medical science. So often we hear of the achievement of the seemingly impossible; more rarely do we hear of the suffering a patient may endure as a result, let alone the psychological consequences of being treated as not much more than a faulty machine. This aspect of modern life is insufficiently discussed, and Jones does us a service by raising it.

But, heart-rending as these experiences are, Through A Glass Darkly is ultimately about something more profound: the unavoidable fact of suffering in human life.

Suffering is the inevitable consequence of many aspects of our existence. But there is nothing more poignant in life than the inextricable link between suffering and love. No one who reads Jones' book could fail to be reminded that love is the greatest gift we have as human beings.

Equally, it is impossible to embark on this journey with her and be unaffected by the inevitability of how vulnerable love makes us. To love is to sign up to many possibilities of suffering, the ultimate of which is mortality: one day, whether it is soon, or distant, we will lose the loved one.

The greatest challenge, and most pressing need, in our lives is not only to endure, but to somehow make sense of, or come to terms with, suffering. And yet modern life seems to devote itself to avoiding it.

Jones' journey is not really towards healing or 'closure'. It is rather a difficult, perilous, protracted and ongoing process of pain, questioning, growth, change and transformation at a profound level, the kind of level that perhaps only love and suffering can reach.

Through A Glass Darkly is truly a book about the heart of things. But it is also a great testament to the value of ordinary life from an author whose simplicity — which runs alongside her at times startling penetration — is one of her most appealing and impressive gifts.

During her speech at the launch of this book, Jones said she wished there was a manual to advise us how to care for elderly parents and relatives. I think she has written it.

Cassandra GoldsCassandra Golds is a Sydney-based author of children's fiction. Her latest book is The Museum of Mary Child.

Topic tags: Cassandra Golds, Caroline Jones, Through a Glass Darkly, ISBN: 9780733323980



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To love is to risk the pain of loss. Amongst other names, we call the pain depression. If we were made incapable of depression, we would be made incapable of loss.

Michael Grounds | 15 May 2009  

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