Terry Tempest Williams
Born to a Mormon family and raised in Utah, Terry Tempest Williams’ being is rooted in her religion and the wild of the desert. These two elements compound to shape her identity, although their co-existence does not always reside in harmony. In 1983, the Great Salt Lake began to swallow Williams’ beloved bird sanctuary. Simultaneously, her mother learns that she has cancer. This juncture in time signals a major turning point in the course of her life. While, unable to stop the steady rise in the lake, Williams is unable to keep her mother on this Earth. After a round of chemotherapy and a bout of radiation, her mother decides to discontinue treatment and live out her final weeks in peace. Her mother’s attitude reflects Mormonism; this trust in religion gives her the strength to persevere, and Williams recognizes her mother’s incredible faith. Mormonism carries her mother and the family through the cancer, but its teachings fail to satisfy Williams’ personal needs. Her mother acted as her connection to Mormonism, and without her there, Williams looks to other places for solace.
Her mother lives her death in conjunction with Mormon tradition, which she tries to share with her daughter. Mormonism values the family unit as the central source for love and support, in times of serenity and times of need. The family also depends on the greater community for help. They exist within one another, tangled in a web of support looking after all members of the Church (James). Incidentally, her mother’s cancer is felt by the entire family. They are all sick; they all fight; they all have to accept death. In the final days, Williams notes that “touch is more important than ever” (220). She consciously holds her mother’s hand, grounding her on Earth and connecting her to the living. Williams shares her strength with her mother, breathing together through her last breaths.
Abiding with their Mormon tradition, her mother wants the family to be unafraid to express themselves. In their conversations, Williams’ mother is open and direct in her questions and responses. She pushes her daughter to do likewise. Mormonism advocates an honest expression of emotions, sharing the pain and loss with others as a means of catharsis (James and Hill). Williams tries to bear alone the weight of her mother’s cancer and the family’s grief, but the strain pulls on her mind and body until she collapses into her mother’s lap, crying her true feelings. She tells her mother the truth, putting away the strong face. Williams’ open grieving is a necessary step towards understanding and accepting her mother’s impending death. As described in the Mormon Encyclopedia, grieving is a natural and essential process accompanying death (Gillespie). Williams’ premature grief is an expected human expression, in line with slowly losing her parent. Both her mother and Mormonism encourage her to share herself with them.
Williams wants to comply with her mother’s...