I recently had the opportunity to read Claire Bidwell Smith’s memoir, “The Rules of Inheritance.”

When I first read the description of the book, I was filled with trepidation. It was described as a memoir about the author, Claire, losing both her parents to cancer by the time she was 25 years of age.

As an intrinsic rule, I try to stay far away from books like this one, books about death. I’m scared of dying, and I’m terrified of my loved ones dying, but something intrigued me about this particular book. Perhaps it was because it was about a taboo topic, or maybe I wanted to conquer my own fears surrounding death. Recently, after having my own kids, I’ve become hyper-aware of my own mortality, and that my parents won’t be around forever.

I decided to face my fears about death and read Bidwell Smith’s memoir.

It turns out that “The Rules of Inheritance” is about so much more than death and grief. The book is about a young woman who is trying to find her place in the world, which I could definitely relate to. I remember being 14 and having my very first panic attack. I was standing on the street on the upper west side of Manhattan with my mother, and I realized that I was so small in comparison to the very large universe. I grabbed my mother’s hand and didn’t let go.

I can only imagine how Claire must have felt when she found out, at 14 years old, that her mother was dying.

At age 14, Claire finds out her mother has colon cancer. She spends her high school years, which are already fraught with teen angst, avoiding her mother’s sickness by hanging out with various boys, engaging in sexual experimentation, and attempting to be a “normal” teenager. When Claire’s mother dies at 18, she is has to confront the world without her mother, which, as someone who considers her mother one of her best friends in the universe, I cannot even imagine. Even if you have a complicated relationship with your mother, simply knowing that she is there to go to in a time of crisis is comforting, Claire doesn’t have that luxury. Her mother is taken from her when she is barely an adult. I don’t really consider 18 to be an adult human. When I was 18, I was freaked out about life, and didn’t know who I was or what I wanted, if my mother had died at 18, I would have been distraught.

Claire is directionless when her mother dies. She travels from New York to L.A. to Europe to even to the Philippines. She goes half way around the world searching for herself. In fact, the picture on the book’s cover is a self-portrait that Claire took at a youth hostel in San Francisco shortly after her mother died. In the photograph, she is looking off to the side, seemingly lost, the photo is black and white, and blurry. Her hair is very short, because she shaved her head in frenzied action to cope with her grief.

The book was an incredibly quick read. It is nearly 300 pages and I finished it in two days, because I literally couldn’t put it down. I wanted to know what happened next, and I wanted to know that Claire was going to be okay. I believe that was an intentional goal of Bidwell Smith in her writing. She draws the reader into her mindset, the character doesn’t know which way to turn next, can’t figure out how she feels at any given moment, but is trying so desperately to survive emotionally in the world.

I related to her in several parts of the book. My best friend also lost her mother when we were in college, and though I have recollections of that time, when I read this book, I got a better idea of what she must have gone through. The grieving process became clearer to me. There is nothing comparable to losing your mother. There is no way to explain it to someone that hasn’t gone through it, but if someone could explain it, Bidwell Smith does an excellent job of it.

In the end, Claire turns a corner. She finds the love of her life, has her own daughter and is healed through her new family. But it is only through her journey and learning to cope with her grief. In fact, she talks about how she goes to graduate school for psychology, and eventually ends up working in hospices as a grief counselor.

The Rules of Inheritance is a versatile read. It’s a great book for someone who is coping with grief, it’s also a coming of age piece, and it speaks to young women who are trying to find themselves.

I was able to connect with Claire, and she agreed to do an interview via skype. Here’s what she had to say:

This post is a part of the BlogHer Book Club! For more information on The Rules of Inheritance as a part of the BlogHer Book club, visit:


*Full Disclosure: This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.”