BookBrowse Reviews I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice

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I Found My Tribe

A Memoir

by Ruth Fitzmaurice

I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice X
I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2019, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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A heartbreaking memoir of love and loss chronicling a young mother's struggles to cope with her husband's disability and impending death.

Ruth O'Neill was only 28 when she married film director Simon Fitzmaurice in 2004. Changing her last name to her husband's, Ruth, along with Simon, pictured a fairy-tale life in the Irish countryside. They lived a romantic existence in a cottage with "rolling hills and apple trees," and had three children together before Simon was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) just four years later. Those afflicted by the incurable and fatal disease, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease in the United States, gradually lose motor function until all bodily systems fail. Ruth Fitzmaurice's memoir, I Found My Tribe, chronicles her emotional journey as Simon becomes completely paralyzed and eventually succumbs to his illness.

As Simon's condition worsens, the couple decide to return to Greystones, Simon's hometown on the Irish coast. It is here that Ruth discovers her love of the ocean and finds friends who help her cope, forming what she calls The Tragic Wives' Club – her "tribe" of women who have also experienced loss. Together they dive into the ocean on a near-daily basis year-round, as a way to bond and, for a few minutes, forget the realities of their lives and just be.

I look at my friends coping and surviving. Like the rolling of waves, the thrill of the dive, the rush of cold, they choose to stay unchained. This is as free as we can all possibly be…Swims like this clean the cobwebs from my mind, like clearing the laundry basket with a good run of hot washes. I am a woman restored.

Fitzmaurice's writing is at its best as she pours her pain into her prose, which at times reads like poetry:

We live our lives in fragments and that's just the way it is. Clocks circling time have little meaning for me. From days and months to moments, fragments of time swing solely between good and bad. I never dare to presume, beyond a hunch, what is coming next…I feel sadness on a deep level, deeper than skin and veins and death. Clock hands circling time are overwhelming and endless.

The book is laid out in short chapters, each loosely held together by a theme, throughout which the author ruminates on a specific aspect of her life. For example, in a section called "Bed," Ruth's narrative moves from her first encounter with Simon at a drinks-heavy student party, waking up next to him on a couch; to the day their "marital bed became a hospital contraption" with "multiple tilts and reclining functions" to make Simon more comfortable. Eventually Ruth decides to leave their bed because she can't sleep with all the electronic beeps and whirrs of the equipment needed to keep her husband alive. The text has a stream-of-consciousness feel to it that renders it raw and honest. It can also be a bit confusing, as it's not always clear which period of their lives is being discussed at any one moment.

The memoir focuses primarily on Fitzmaurice herself, specifically her internal struggles as she remembers the good times and grieves over what their lives have become and how Simon's illness has impacted their children. It's heartbreaking reading her pain as she tries – unsuccessfully – to explain to her four-year-old daughter why her father can't go back to "the old Dadda" who walked and talked.

Interestingly, using an eye-gaze computer (see 'Beyond the Book') as his sole means of communication, Simon wrote a memoir of his own, It's Not Yet Dark and wrote and directed a film, achievements that are only glancingly touched upon in this book. Ruth's memoir also has very little to say about her communication with Simon as the disease progresses. One assumes they would continue to "talk," but there's little here about their interaction.

I Found My Tribe is a beautiful, haunting work throughout which Fitzmaurice bares her soul. Readers who enjoy memoirs will likely find this a must-read and book groups will discover multiple topics to discuss within its pages.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in April 2018, and has been updated for the April 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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