Reviewed by Molly Martin
Nina’s Memento Mori
by Mathias B Freese
Paperback: 148 pages, September 24, 2019, ISBN-13: 978-1627877107
Nina’s Memento Mori is a powerful lament for the wife Freese loved and lost to illness. The reads at times like a film script, and at times as a mournful realization that life is short:
My intent here is to lay bare the themes and curlicues of my existence and in so doing, show how this impacted upon Nina, whether for good and bad with indifference at times.
The book is broken up into nineteen chapters, each presenting a particular point in their lives, with titles like “Fade IN: Wake Up”, “Dissolve: Observer Observed”, “Voice Over: Cemetery Mind”, :Director’s Cut: A Primitive Lot”, “Fade out: Nina’s Poetry”, and “Unfinished Memoir”. Freese has fashioned an unambiguous, painful, near agonizingly heart-felt requiem that beautifully captures death and grief. Nina Wingard Freese was a retired special education teacher of autistic students who died as a result of ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease. Contemplative and enhanced with photographs, the book presents Nina as a little girl and again several more times as she is growing up and as a young mother and then as a handsome, mature woman.
Freese’s elegy is a journey stained with grief; a little girl adopted, not especially loved, a bad marriage, and difficult children, and yet Nina held fast to the conviction that she merited love and was prepared to try again.
Freese considers how fleeting his time with Nina was, as well as, along with the many parallels they shared in their earlier lives. He was a lonely, unnurtured child, while Nina bore the mistreatmentof her adopted mother. Nina’s death triggered Freese to probe his Jewish heritage and the book explores the impact of religion on his life through Biblical references. Given the circumstance of Nina’s death, the tone of the work is glum at times. On the other hand, Nina’s hopeful mindset and her ability to allow Freese to feel valuable and extraordinary is exciting.
Culpability is a key theme in the book, and Freese explores this notion, and his own guilt for having found a hospice for Nina’s last days, even though commitment to care for someone suffering ALS does necessitate preparation as well as insight and undying commitment. The final chapter encompasses so much and includes the letter Nina might have written to him, filled with forgiveness, knowing and letting him know that he was the only husband who truly respected and adored her. This creates a positive and uplifting ending which promises hope.
Nina’s Memento Mori is a loving, moving memoir written in tribute to a special woman whose memory will never fade in time. It is a powerful read, which I’m happy to recommend for public and college library catalogues, therapist book shelves, and for readers who have experienced a similar loss.