Terry Tempest Williams

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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 moth...

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... Mormonism belonged to her mother, acting as the glue of the family. Alone, Williams seeks out new sources of comfort and hope. She hasn’t abandoned her religion; rather, she’s augmenting her faith. Her mother has given her the core values of Mormonism, modeling herself as an example of a pious woman. Her faith did not die with her mother. Rather, Williams confirms its presence in her life by testing its veracity against her needs. The Day of the Dead provides a tangible means of engaging her grief, fulfilling Williams’ needs at that time.

In the Mexican tradition, mourners form paths of petals in the streets, leading to an altar in their homes. These makeshift paths lead their loved ones to return to their families (Salvador 75-76). In the final sentences of the book, Williams scatters marigold petals on the water’s surface, inviting her mother to return to her.
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