My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
This book review has been cursed. First, I spent about 1/2 hour writing this book review, and then when I hit "publish," the entire review was gone. Then when I rewrote it this evening I kept getting HTML form errors. If it were not such a good book, I would not have put so much effort into it, I can assure you. Of course, the earlier review was completely brilliant, but now I have run out of steam!
In this moving memoir of his wife Kirsten's battle with Stage 4 lung cancer, novelist Brendan Halpin offers a beautiful, loving, brutally honest tribute to his beloved wife, who died a year after the book was published.
Some people might find it ironic--or stupid--that I read this book so soon after my own minor (in comparison) breast cancer scare. I recently had my first mammogram, which resulted in a terrifying morning of further mammograms, ultrasound, and painful and traumatic breast biopsy...followed by days of waiting to get the all clear. So yes, I'm a little crazy to read this memoir so soon afterward...but it gave me perspective...and I am not scared off by sadness or death.
I've read Halpin's novel, Donorboy, and also follow his blog, so I was aware that his wife died after this book was published. The book sat on my bookshelves for a few years before I finally decided to pick it up.
I dog-eared several pages and made notes about my favorite bits (in the blog post I wrote earlier). Here are a few, but not all, of those notes:
- Brendan, Kirsten, and their preschool-age daughter experience amazing caring from the members of their family and church. As he discovers, "God has no hands but our hands (Saint Teresa of Avila). As we too experienced when our oldest child was born 4 months early and we received similar TLC, "It is very difficult under such circumstances to maintain the idea that God is not working in the world. When we are in our time of need, we are suddenly surrounded by love and we can't forget even for a day how many people care about us."
- This man clearly adores his family. "I know this sounds corny and probably unbelievable in light of everything I've just said, but it is absolutely true that the whole rest of the room just falls away because my whole life just walked in the door, and I hug and kiss them both."
- I admire Halpin's brutal honesty about his anger at the 50-year-old men in the cancer survivor spouse group...whose wives are ill with cancer...not knowing whether his own wife will make it to 50.
- Tragically, Halpin lost his own father when he was nine years old...and he realizes in the midst of this crisis that "I was always so afraid of ending up like my dad that I never bothered to worry about ending up like my mom."
- One day when Halpin met a woman whose sister-in-law had given birth to a stillborn baby and nearly died herself, the woman expressed her belief that all of the prayers had worked. Halpin notes "presumably the people who are praying for her now were also praying for her to have a healthy baby. So how can you say it works?" I remember people commenting that Chris did so well in the NICU after his horrific birth and first few months of life because of prayer--and our steadfast love and presence. Yes, of course our prayers were answered, but were our prayers or love any more powerful than those of parents whose babies had died? I think not. It doesn't compute. I don't believe in a God who values the prayers of one person or family over another.
- I could also relate to his frustration in having to deal with family drama (with his mom and in-laws) while he was facing his own family crisis. I remember that, too.
- Halpin experiences the powerful healing and understanding that comes when someone else--who has been through what you have gone through--can offer simple validation and support. A coworker expresses how when her girlfriend had cancer, all she wanted to do was work (because it helped him escape), validating how Halpin had been feeling...and he comments "I don't know whether Jesus was God, or God was Jesus, or whether either of them had uncontrollable boners when they were thirteen (though every human male I know did), but I do know that for me, today, God's face is the face of a gray-haired lesbian who tells me she understands me."