Study Guide

Missing May Suffering

By Cynthia Rylant

Suffering

But I felt like one of those little mice who has to figure out the right button to push before its food will drop down into the cup. Caged and begging. That's how I felt sometimes. (1.12)

Summer's young life isn't exactly a walk through the aisles of Toys-R-Us, and she has a pretty rough time of it with her Ohio relatives before she's taken home by Aunt May and Uncle Ob.

We have not done much of anything since, except to miss May and hurt. I never would have thought us to be so lost. We used to be tougher than this. (2.3)

It's been six months but Uncle Ob and Summer still feel the pain of losing May. How long does it take to fully grieve someone? You get the sense that they don't know—and they're desperate for the pain to recede.

But we're not strong anymore. And I think Ob's going to die, truly die, if I can't figure a way to mend his sorry broken heart. And if Ob does go, goes off to be with May, then it'll be just me and the whirligigs left. (2.41)

Oof—as if little Summer didn't have enough to worry about already, she has to try to keep Uncle Ob alive so that she has someone left in her life. She can't even properly grieve Aunt May with something this big hanging over her head.

Still, I guess I am grateful for Cletus. He got Ob through an awful Christmas by bringing over a one-thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle of the Great Pyramids. (3.26)

Cletus may be a weirdo, but he's there to make sure that Uncle Ob and Summer don't fall completely into a dark pit of despair. He even stops by on Christmas to bring them some holiday cheer.

Ob's smile then slowly disappeared, and he wiped a hand across his eyes. In an instant, he looked more tired than I'd ever seen him, and my heart sank. (4.55)

Uncle Ob just isn't doing well following Aunt May's death. Even though it's been six months, he doesn't seem to be getting better. In fact, he just seems more tired and sad.

All Ob and me wanted to do when we lost May was hold on to each other and wail in that trailer for days and days. But we never got the chance, because just like there are certain ways people expect you to get married, or go to church, or raise kids, there are certain ways people expect you to grieve. (5.8)

They may just want to cry their eyes out like hysterical cartoon characters, but Uncle Ob and Summer don't get to do any of that. Instead there's all this business that they have to take care of after Aunt May dies.

I didn't want Cletus to know the pain this caused me, that I wasn't enough to bring Ob to life each day. That it wasn't enough he had me left to still love. (5.17)

Summer's grief is twofold—she's sad that Aunt May has died, and she's sad that Uncle Ob is suffering so much. She just wants him to feel better so that they can work on healing together.

But it was only eleven o'clock in the morning, we had been on this journey only three hours, and already everything was cracked and broken—and some of us with it. (10.30)

The trip started out so well, but when Uncle Ob finds out that the spiritualist medium is dead, everything immediately goes downhill. Even Summer—who was skeptical all along—feels the heaviness of their collective disappointment.

Unlike the happy silence we'd all enjoyed earlier that morning, we suffered instead a black kind of stillness on our route back home. Ob looked awful. I thought he might just pull the car over to the shoulder and die. (10.33)

Well this sounds like the worst road trip ever—even Cletus is having a horrible time. His friends are in a dark cloud of depression, and he doesn't get to go see the capitol building like he so badly wanted to.

Back to Deep Water, where life would become again an empty trailer, an old man's declining will to go on, a crazy fool believing in the mysteries of a beat-up vinyl suitcase, and me. (10.35)

Summer is convinced that after their failed trip, Uncle Ob is just going to get worse and worse until she's ultimately left all alone. Nothing's turning out the way Summer wanted it to, and nothing's been right since Aunt May's passing.

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