Title: What to Do When I’m Gone: A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daughter
Author: Suzy Hopkins, Hallie Bateman (Illustrations)
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: April 3, 2018
Genre: Graphic Novels, Self Help
Rating: ☕☕☕☕ (4/5)
Content Warning: death of a parent
One sleepless night while she was in her early twenties, illustrator/writer Hallie Bateman had a painful realization: Someday, her mother would be gone. The prospect was devastating, and also scary—how would she navigate the world without the person who gave her life? She thought about all the motherly advice she would miss—advice that could help her through the challenges to come, including the ordeal of losing a parent.
The next day, Hallie asked her mother, writer Suzy Hopkins, to record step-by-step instructions for her to follow in the event of her mom’s death. The list began: “Pour yourself a stiff glass of whiskey and make some fajitas” and continued from there, addressing issues great and small—from choosing a life partner to baking a quiche. The project became a way for mother and daughter to discuss everyday realities with humor, openness, and gratitude. It led to this book.
Combining Suzy’s witty and heartfelt advice with Hallie’s quirky and colorful style, What to Do When I’m Gone is the illustrated instruction manual for getting through life without one’s mom. It’s also a poignant look at loss, love, and taking things one moment at a time. By turns whimsical, funny, touching, and pragmatic, it will leave readers laughing and teary-eyed. And it will spur conversations that enrich family members’ understanding of one another. (via Goodreads)
I discovered this book almost by accident when I was browsing Amazon a few years ago, at the time when I don’t even have a credit card so I asked my father to get it for me. It’s the sort of book that I’m afraid to crack open. Partly because, more often than not, I don’t want to acknowledge death as an inevitable part of life – I don’t want it looming over me. But, at the same time, mostly because I’m too afraid to dig through emotions that I tried myself to bury ever since the sudden death of my mom back in 2013.
Through the years, I tried cracking this book open but I find myself starting but not managing to move past 5 pages. It started like this:
I always interpreted it as my brain telling me that “I am not ready.” but I already accepted the fact that I’m just too terrified to face my feelings and what I’m gonna find here once I properly read it. But finally, I mustered the courage to go through it. And I am so glad I did.
You don’t have to go through this alone, now or in the future.
Reading What To Do When I’m Gone is such a personal experience. God knows I’ve tried processing and rationalizing my grief so much over the years. This book made me realize that even with the years, it is still there – it would always be there – and that it’s okay. This gave many simple advice and meaningful messages that I wished I had the chance to talk to with my own mom more. It has humor as well as comfort recipes. It also encourages you to get out of your comfort zone and let people in. Beautifully written coupled with stunning illustrations, this book had me laughing one page and almost tearing up the next. Sure, this book centers around grief and loss – but it also focuses on the “after”. That even after a loss, life goes on and you owe it to yourself to continue a life worth living.
What we carry of other people, even when they’re alive, is simply our perception of them, an idea. That means I’m here as long as you remember me. And since I’m here, I suggest you get busy living, seeking out happiness, moving forward.
Reading this enforced an idea that made me fall in love with reading in the first place: that realization that someone, somewhere, sometime, a person feels exactly what you’re feeling at the moment. And it’s such a great time to be reminded of that.
It has taken me years to read this book without choking up. And though I still feel that unmistakable emotion bubbling up, it’s now faint enough for me to actually finish this book without feeling bad about life. If there’s anything I regret, it’s that I should’ve let myself read this sooner. I would’ve felt less alone in my emotions.
If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, I recommend you read this book. It celebrates life lost and, at the same time, encourages those that were left behind to unapologetically move on. I hope this book will somehow help you – as it similarly helped me. 💛
Here are some of my favorite lines in this beautiful book:
Why go on if we all just die in the end? There’s a great reason. If you knew you were going to live forever, imagine how much time you’d waste. Amazing things can happen when there’s a deadline looming.
If you lose someone important to you, you should try to replace that person. Because if you live your life losing and not replacing, you’ll end up at zero. I’m not saying you can replace your mother, and it won’t necessarily be an even trade, but I’d like you to try.
At times you will forget that you are amazing, and I hate that I’m not there to remind you. Because someday you will be old, and you will look back at pictures of yourself and you will see . . . “I was beautiful.”
All I can say is, it’s worth it when you find someone who knows what you are going through and actually cares. Who knows your history and doesn’t mind at all. Who knows what you are really like first thing in the morning and loves you anyway. Yes, it’s risky, and yes, there are times when it’s a lot of work. Take that chance.
Grief isn’t the only byproduct of a death. And death isn’t just subtraction. You’re left with a treasure of memories that can be triggered by sights, sounds, smells—a record of how my life enriched yours.
Fear is useful when it causes you to avoid an oncoming train or motivates you to make positive changes. Otherwise it’s a life suck. When you’re terrified, ask yourself: Is this helping? If not, laugh in fear’s face.