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‘What We Lose’ Review

In her debut novel, Zinzi Clemmons tackles a number of thought-provoking and deep issues in “What We Lose.” Over the course of 223 pages, the dual ivy-league degreed Clemmons takes readers on a journey of parental loss and race exploration.

What We Lose

The unique relationship between a mother and daughter can be extremely close. For instance, a thought begins with one and ends with the other. And when the bond is severed, as it is in the case of “What We Lose,” life balance can be upended.

For her entire life to date, Thandi is caught between two worlds founded in race, class and gender identity. Her mother is a black South African and her father is a white American. She is always struggling between these worlds, and Thandi’s battle becomes even more pronounced with the death of her mother, who is terminally ill with cancer.

As is somewhat typical in most families, issues in family dynamics start long before her mother’s passing. Simply stated, each family member handles stress in a personal way. Long-standing traditions fall by the wayside as the health of Thandi’s mother deteriorates. “The air at home was decidedly anxious. Our family dinners of curries and aromatic roasts ceased. My father fixed simple, utilitarian meals that filled my stomach and suited my mother’s restrictions.”

Frustration seeps into Thandi’s relationship with her father as communication between the two spirals into almost non-existence. They suffer in silence silos. “My father and I didn’t communicate much except to coordinate nurse visits for my mother or to give updates on her medicines. We were holding so much in, our pain distinct from each other’s in many ways. I suppose we thought that if we ever acknowledged this, all our carefully assembled control would fall to pieces. I was terrified of his pain — that of losing a lifelong partner, so many years tossed out the window. And I’m sure he feared the destabilization of my loss — how much of my life yet to live would be marred by this trauma.”

A Delicate Balance

what we loseInteractions between mother and daughter change as each adapts to what they both know the future holds in store for them. Thandi yearns for her mother’s touch but is at a loss, and she watches her parent retreat into herself. “She would hug me or touch my cheek, and I would look deep into her eyes, searching for something that had already gone.”

As the end draws near, hospice assists with the care of Thandi’s mother. Reality sets in for the young public health associate — life will continue without her mother by her side. Yet in the end, Thandi’s mother still provides comfort. “And when I tried to speak, only tears came. The pain was exponential. I realized that this would be life; to figure out how to live without her hand on my back; her soft, accented English telling me Everything will be all right, Thandi.

“This was the paradox: How would I ever heal from losing the person who healed me?”

Thandi finds herself floundering upon the death of her mother.  “In the weeks after my mother died, … I was stuck in my bedroom while family and friends circulated in the apartment’s outer rooms and hallways, barely able to leave my room, embarrassed for my eyes and nose that ran like faucets, my face blotched with red from wiping all the tears away.”

After a loved one’s death, those left behind all handle grief in their own unique fashion. Thandi finds some solace when the hospice caring for her mother sends a pamphlet titled “What We Lose: A Support Guide,” which outlines a glossary of terms: grief, mourning and bereavement.

                Grief is a response to loss. It is a process, describing how one feels and thinks.

                Mourning describes how a person expresses their loss.

               Bereavement is the event of loss. It is also a change in status; when a husband loses his wife and becomes a widower, or a child                   loses a parent and becomes an orphan.

Thandi realizes she is not alone.

At Chapters Health System and its affiliatesGood Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice, every day is devoted to educating our patients and keeping them in the place they call home. We are dedicated to ensuring that patients, young and old alike, and their families are able to make educated decisions about important healthcare matters. For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or send an email to

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Corporate Communications for Chapters Health System, manages all content and communications for the not-for-profit organization.

Discovering Good Reads

Over the years, a number of book management apps, such as Delicious Library, Library Thing, Readerware, iReadItNow and Libib, have been developed. Some fell into disuse, and others grew in popularity. Some apps manage more than books, allowing you to catalog and keep track of your movies, music and video games. But one has definitely stood the test of time, probably in part because the portal was purchased by Amazon: Good Reads.

What is Good Reads?

Good Reads is both a web-based portal and mobile device app. Whether you access on a desktop, laptop or phone, you launch Good Reads by creating a free account, which allows you to do a host of activities. Once you join the community, you can check if your friends have accounts. If not, you can invite them to join in a variety of ways, including through Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Yahoo.

If you decide to join the book-loving community of Good Reads, a wealth of benefits is at your disposal. You can do the following:

  • Organize your personal book collection of what you own.
  • Track progress for whatever book(s) you might currently be reading.
  • Create a ”want to read” library list.
  • Write a full review of a book you read or merely give it a star rating.
  • Get recommendations based on your likes and past reads and from friends, and learn which selections to avoid .
  • Find and participate in reading/book challenges.
  • Join groups like Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, Everyone Has Read This but Me and the Ultimate Popsugar Reading Challenge.
  • Register for book giveaways available frequently from publishing houses.
  • Check out news, author interviews and upcoming book releases.
  • Follow your favorite authors who have Good Reads, and even ask authors any questions you might have.

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