A Memoir of Grief and Growing Up Soon to Grace the Big Screen: “The Rules of Inheritance” by Claire Bidwell Smith

It was recently announced that Claire Bidwell Smith’s memoir, The Rules of Inheritance, will be made into a movie starring Academy-award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence.

Smith lost both of her parents before her 30s and while she is now a therapist specializing in grief in LA, this memoir shows just how hard it was for her to move through the stages of grief after the loss of her parents. Through poetic, emotionally raw prose, Smith shares the choices and experiences that shaped her and her painfully slow road towards healing and recovery.

The Rules of Inheritance is a poignant portrait of two loving parents who, while flawed, loved their daughter with abandon. So when Smith’s mother dies in her freshman year at Marlboro College in Vermont, her cancer advancing swiftly shortly after she visited the college campus for parent’s weekend, Claire is devastated. Thus begins a life adrift, compounding the already fraught experience of inchoate independence.

My mother is dead.

I say it several times.

My mother is dead.

My mother is dead.

The words become living things. They scuffle at the corners of the room, and I wrap my arms tight around me, trying to keep still so they will not notice me.

Smith’s memoir takes you back into the maelstrom of her experience with the flow of her words. Her writing is so fluid and strong, that you start reading and then look up hours later to find yourself halfway through. I read this on the bus, at times close to tears, for she captures her heady youth and the confusion and pain that her parents’ illness and loss wrought with such immediacy.

I must admit that I initially picked up The Rules of Inheritance because I had learned she was at Marlboro College at the same time that I was. Our paths almost certainly crossed on that campus of less than 300 students, although we did not know one another. I did recognize many of the individuals in her memoir. But I found that I would have loved Smith’s memoir regardless of a tangential personal connection. It is a powerful meditation on love, on how our parents parent us and how we begin to parent ourselves. Smith illustrates how hard it is to move through the stages of grief but just how necessary it is to do so in order to get to the other side intact.

As with any memoir of struggle, I was grateful to reach the end to learn that Claire Bidwell Smith is in a better place in life. It is all the more inspiring that she is helping others with their own grief. This makes me all the more happy on her behalf that a movie in the works. The Rules of Inheritance is sure to inspire and help so many more.

 

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library.

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