Book Review: 'Tilda's Promise' looks at handling grief, aging

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"Tilda's Promise" by Jean P. Moore of Tyringham is a novel that embraces complications of grief and aging, as well as the great turmoil of adolescent identity crisis, issues that affect a family's otherwise serene and happy life. But they are resolved in rediscovering beauty and love, and purpose in exploring and redefining relationships, much like discovering new worlds.

The novel deals compassionately and accurately with the main character's growing older, the loss of a loved one and the complex issue of sexual identity in the person of her teen-age granddaughter, Tilly, who takes the name Harper.

The book gets its title from an agreement, a promise that the main character Tilda makes with her adult daughter, Laura. Laura has grown increasingly concerned that Tilda isn't managing her deep grief in the face of the sudden and wholly unexpected death of her husband, Harold. Then Laura reflects on what her Jewish faith says regarding grief and realizes Tilda needs, is "entitled" to, a period of mourning to properly resolve her loss, a full year in fact, shneim asar chodesh, and the five stages of grief that Tilda is experiencing. They both resolve to give each other the right space to go through it all until, in the time of one year, Yahrzeit, they will meet and talk about the journey.

While Tilda grieves the wonderful relationship of her husband Harold, her own family drama is not the entire story. She is drawn into a family crisis with neighbors, where a wife has drifted away from her husband and their daughter is in a later-in-life identity crisis. Tilda finds herself between two people she both cares about and respects and their daughter, Lizzie, is a key to getting through to Tilda's granddaughter, Harper. Harper suddenly reveals a serious adolescent sexual identity dilemma and its attendant psychological stress. When Tilda tries to help it is very clear that Harper too misses her main support person, her grandfather, Harold.

Tilda resolves to take her granddaughter on a pivotal and very meaningful trip to Portugal. Harper had gotten a great deal of value from Harold's talks on the history of their persecuted ancestors from the time of Portugal's Age of Discovery and the great explorers, such as Vasco da Gama, explorer of The New World. The great explorers "had the tools they needed" to navigate the unknown.

During a tour on the trip, Harper had "seen the tools that had made celestial navigation possible," in the form of almanac, compass and astrolabe. "Suddenly the sky and the stars didn't seem so big. It was possible to find your place." Subsequently, Tilda and Harper share what Harold had told Harper about his purpose in life. They find the book Harold quoted it from, right in Tilda's office: "A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved." It was from Kurt Vonnegut's novel, "The Sirens of Titan." Tilda and Harper find their way forward in this way, and Tilda can keep her promise to Laura to begin again after tragedy, in a strange and adventurous new world, guided by love.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at charrington686@gmail.com.

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