“To die will be an awfully big adventure” – James M. Berrie, Peter Pan

Searching for Spenser: A Mother’s Journey Through Grief (Anamcara Press) by Margaret Kramar opens by telling readers what they can expect to find between its covers; there is no suspenseful moment to the climax, no unforeseen plot twist in her story. In fact, she tells us how it will end: Her son Spenser will die at the age of 10. 

Kramar explains that, after Spenser died, it was suggested to her that she write memories of her son on index cards and keep them in a box. But the idea of her son’s life, reduced to incomplete thoughts in disorganized chaos, just didn’t seem to do him justice. Searching for Spenser is her memory box. It is here that Kramar gathers thoughts and memories from friends, family and even Spenser’s teachers to preserve all the unique, beautiful and heartbreaking aspects of their lives together. 

BECOMING A PART OF THE KRAMAR FAMILY 

Throughout, Kramar is extremely honest about her struggles with being a single mother to two children, one of whom is disabled. She didn’t write about her life to give anyone a false depiction of what she went through; there is zero hand-holding when it comes to recounting the experience of losing your child. Kramar has offered her journey and pain to help others realize that there is a way to come back from that type of loss, to emerge from grief with new insight. 

As I dove into the book, I found myself thinking that, since I already knew the outcome of the story, I might not find it as compelling of a read as other memoirs. I was wrong. In actuality, the more you read, the more you fall in love with the way Kramar writes, and you can’t help but turn the page. While you may know the ending, the middle is filled with lessons, memories and hardships that are written so beautifully that you’ll find yourself engrossed for hours. 

The interview component is particularly fascinating; it allows you to be a part of the conversations with friends, family and teachers as if in real-time. As memories of Spenser play out from the various viewpoints, it gives off the effect that you’re living them right alongside Spenser’s loved ones.

A TALE OF GRIEF COUPLED WITH RESILIENCE

I won’t lie; this book was also an emotionally difficult read, feeling a growing attachment to such a happy, active and creative child, yet knowing what lies ahead for him. In losing her son, Kramar faced every mother’s worst fear. Through that heartbreaking experience, though, she chooses to grant us a glimpse into her world of motherhood. While I am not a mother myself, and I haven’t experienced this type of heartbreak, this book was still able to teach me about the struggle of living through a tragedy and wanting to come out from the other side seeing the world filled with wonder — and the importance of not letting the beautiful things pass you by. 

In this way, Kramar’s detail-filled chronicle isn’t just a tale of grief and loss but also one of resilience. With Searching for Spenser, Kramar meditates on the life of a child who many people on the outside looking in wouldn’t expect to have much impact on this world. But through him, we are taught love, patience and acceptance. For once you have read this memoir, the search for Spenser is over. He has been found in our hearts.

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Margaret Rayburn Kramar is a Midwestern author, actress and college instructor, who produces organic fruits and vegetables at Hidden Hollow Farm. Margaret’s first novel is her memoir Searching for Spenser, in which she explores how she was transformed through the experience of her son’s life and death. Writing became a creative outlet for her grief and allowed her to share her story with others.