Q&A with local author Corinne Martin on new book, ‘Letters from the Love Room’

Author Corinne Martin of Harrison

Corinne Martin of Harrison has written a book about grieving and loss — Letters from the Love Room, Mapping the landscape of loss — is now out, from Made for Wonder Publishing of Issaquah, Wash. The book will be available at Bridgton Books and at Longfellow Books in Portland.

Former BN staff writer Michael T. Corrigan recently sat down with the local author to discuss her new book.

BN: How did Letters from the Love Room come about, both the letters and the book?

CM: I spent many years as long-distance care manager for my dear aunt who died at 102. In the last five years or so before she died, I’d travel down to Maryland where she lived, and do everything from cleaning her refrigerator to doing her taxes to coordinating her care with helpers.

Then, when she died, I came back to Maine after her Maryland funeral, and she was still very much present, very much there all around me. It made me think about close relationships, and how, when two people are close, they make a kind of space together that is unique, kind of life a room that only those two people can enter. I began to call that space “the love room,” and wondered what happens to the love room when someone dies? So, I decided to write little letters to my aunt, and to find out.

BN: What made your aunt so special to you?

CM: My aunt was always very alive, very much engaged in life. She was interested in all of us children when we were young. She wanted to know what we thought about things. And she was always curious and open-minded.

She lived a different sort of life than many of the adults I knew. She traveled the world; she taught for 40 years in the university system; she lived overseas. As a child, I felt very isolated and out-of-place, very different. So having Min be interested in me, and having her as an example of how to live an engaged, curious and spirited life, basically saved me.

BN: What did you learn from the whole process?

CM: First, I learned that the people who mean so much to you don’t disappear after a death. It’s not like they’re here, then gone, and that’s that. I also learned that the person left behind can keep that love room open, can keep the connection alive, just by paying attention.

I also learned much about grief. Even though my parents had died years before my aunt, I hadn’t actually known about the many ways grief can impact your life. It can open up old losses that haven’t been healed. It can bring challenges, such as health issues, feelings of disconnection, a tendency toward isolation, anger, sleep disturbances, and many other things. But I also found it to be a blessing in some ways. I wasn’t really alone. I wasn’t really without my aunt. She was still very much with me, even after she was gone. And that was not something that I was making up in my head; it was a visceral reality.

BN: Family is very important to someone from the South. How did your Louisiana family help you to deal with your loss?

CM: After my aunt died, I took her ashes back to the town where my father and seven generations of our family had been born and raised. I was shocked to find that Louisiana still felt so much a part of me. It was something my body just needed. When I left, as a young woman, I never thought I’d go back. But now I’ve gotten to know my large extended family much better, and this has helped me to heal.

I’ve learned so many stories about my aunt, my dad, and all our ancestors. I feel like I’m going back to continue a certain story of my life that got interrupted when I left.

Of course, I love Maine. I’ve lived here for 32 years, but my body remembers that land, down South. I’m so happy to reconnect with family, and the lush land, and of course the food! I recently went down for a visit, and gained eight pounds in a week!

BN: There is a lot to do in getting a book published these days, and you’ll be busy working on that now. But have you thought about your next book already?

CM: Yes. LSU press might be interested in seeing a book about finding and using the medicinal plants of Louisiana, sort of like Herbal Remedies from the Wild, which was originally published as Earth Magic. (This was published by Countryman Press in 1992, and was about medicinal plants - and life! - in the North Bridgton area.) I’d like to bring to light how blessed, and threatened, the land is down there. As one of my cousins said recently, she hopes my grandson can come down soon to visit so he can know that once there was a place called Louisiana! It’s a way of life, and a land, that is disappearing. I want to write about that, somehow.

BN: So your memoir is about grief; would you say that it’s kind of a depressing read?

CM: Well, it is a book about loss and sadness, but it’s also a testament to the wrenching and glorious beauty of being alive. It’s a celebration of life that continues on, no matter what. The book, and the journey, are filled with joy.

 

 

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