I am over halfway through the book, "The Secret Life of Houdini - The Making of America's First Superhero" by William Kalush and Larry Sloman. Harry Houdini was extremely devoted to his mother and was deeply affected by her death. He apparently would often wake up in the middle of the night and call out loud, "Mama, are you here?" When he received no response he would sigh with disappointment and fall back to bed morosely. Even five years after her death, he still suffered great feelings of loss. In a letter to a friend he wrote, "I have worked hard and faithfully, and never knew what it was to shirk work, until one morning I awoke and found that my Mother had departed - and since then I 'loaf' in my work."
I find it very interesting and informative that Houdini also makes references to how he is affected by his mother's death around the date of her passing. He writes, "I have not recovered from my Mothers Loss, and July 8 was the last time I saw and [held] Her in my arms kissing Her a genuine Goodbye, and about the 17 of each month the feeling comes back to me, and I get melancoly [sic] moods." On the second anniversary of her death, he purposely stayed in the room "in which My Darling Mother went to Sleep for Evermore."
Houdini was friends with the "The Call of the Wild" author, Jack London and his wife, Charmian. When Jack died at only the age of 40, he immediately sent a telegram to Charmian. While she was in New York 11 months later, she attended one of Houdini's shows and met him afterward. He appeared somewhat shocked and upset that she was looking "so well and blooming" that soon after her husband's death. She responded defiantly with "I REFUSE to be beaten! I am going to put in whatever years life still hold for me as profitably in the pursuit of happiness as I possibly can. You have lost and suffered. An I not right in my attitude?"
Again, I found this reaction to be very interesting. Even in 1917 two very different reactions to death and grief are at play and at odds here. Houdini doesn't feel his friend's wife should be "over" her grief while Charmian has adopted a mindset of moving forward despite her pain and looking for happiness in the future. I was just blown away by this very small part of the book - probably most readers find it somewhat interesting and continue reading without much further thought but it really impacted me in many ways. I am most struck by:
1. Houdini's love and devotion for his mother and his acknowledgment that the grief lingered long after her death.
2. For the courage of Jack London's wife to forge ahead meeting life head on and with the specific intent of pursuing happiness (and not feeling guilty with herself for this attitude).
Interesting that Houdini was upset with Charmian for not grieving enough as he saw fit. After mulling all of this over I have settled in on my conclusion. I think that we all need to grieve in our own ways and for the time we need. I have come to believe that the grief over my losses will forever be incorporated into my life and they've become who I am. But at the same time, I also want to move ahead and experience much more happiness. Debbie Ford puts it so perfectly in her book "Spititual Divorce" by asking, "In this new situation, how can I be happy and have a great life?" Like Houdini I want to honor my losses. But like Charmian and Debbie Ford I am ready to ask this question and to seek the answers.
I pay tribute to Harry Houdini on this Halloween for the mastery of his magic, his talent, devotion to family, work ethic, creativity, courage, honesty and patriotism - all true measures of a great man and true American legend.