The internet can be a wonderful thing in leading you to stories of those people who have walked a similar path, like this new book by Nora McInerny Purmort. This is a little different from what I usually post here as I haven’t written a book review before, and this really isn’t a “proper” review but more of an opportunity to talk about a very poignant book.
Lately I’ve been battling a tidal wave of feelings as some of the numbness of the first few months without Michael has started to wear off. Whilst I’m filling my days with making fundraising plans, setting up the new studio and sewing colourful dresses, I’m feeling everything in new ways, especially late at night when everything is usually amplified. I don’t imagine this is unusual at this stage, and it is also good since I know I need to feel all of this and let the grief come out because that’s how much I love him and that’s how much I miss him.
On one of my “I can’t sleep so I’ll scroll through Instagram until the early hours” nights, I stumbled upon a quote posted on Emily McDowell’s feed taken from the introduction to a new book called It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too). It read that the book was intended “for people who had their life turned upside down and just learned to live that way. For people who have laughed at a funeral or cried in a grocery store.” I have done both, so I clicked through to read more and discovered that the author and I have something very tragic in common – she is a young widow who lost her husband Aaron to brain cancer, and has written an inspirational memoir about their love and her loss. I bought the book immediately and on my next sleepless night I started to read. Two days later I’d finished it. I laughed, I cried, I sobbed, and somehow this book helped me to start putting the feelings that are engulfing me into some sort of order by saying all the things I was trying to.
Whilst I have been open about many aspects of my life and loss on this little corner of the internet, I find it hard to talk about the difficult parts and so choose to focus on writing about trying to be positive and keep living in the wake of tragedy. The difficult parts are however very present and very real. So to discover that someone has been brave enough to write about her own very similar experiences from a sincere yet positive perspective, and to have done it with such dignity showing complete love and respect to her husband, her son and their story, has been so helpful to me.
I’m struggling with adjectives here because it feels uncomfortable to say a book about such personal loss is “incredible” or a “must read”, but it is so beautifully and honestly written from such a fresh and modern perspective that it needs a fiercely complimentary adjective. The author writes openly about love, life and loss, and does it all with a sense of humour and balance which makes this book poignant to some yet accessible to everyone, mixing in anecdotes from her life to give context and meaning. It is very much about the tragedy the author has lived through and she tells their story in such a way that you feel as though you experienced it all too, yet she carefully avoids going into much medical detail or telling too many stories of cancer and hospitals. She also talks freely about the way tragedy changes not just your life but also your relationships with others, with a reflective and insightful awareness of her own interactions with friends and family, all of which has helped me greatly. She does all of this with warmth and wit, and by the end feels like a close friend who you’ve shared a bottle of wine with whilst talking about your lives. Although obviously our stories are different and I am not trying to compare, there are some inescapable similarities, from diagnosis following an out-of-the-blue seizure to twice brain surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, as well as showing inspirational strength and positivity in the face of illness to keep living how he wanted. Because of this, I wish I could send a copy of the book to everyone in my life to help them understand what it’s really been like to have lived through the past few years, yet somehow have coped.
What I like best about this book is that it is a love story, and one that I am proud to say I can relate to in so many ways. If we put cancer to one side, so much of what the author is writing about is meeting someone wonderful where love suddenly becomes easy, who loves you for who you are and yet makes you a better person, and who shows you that life can be happy and full no matter what happens if you are open to it and work at it. It’s also about losing that person, and being equal parts a crumbling mess and a picture of strength because you loved so hard and so deeply that you can’t be anything else.
Since losing her husband a year and a half ago, the author Nora has not only written this book, but she has also set up a non-profit called Still Kickin raising money through sales of t-shirts and apparel which goes to help a new “hero” each month who has been dealt a crappy hand in life, and founded the Hot Young Widows Club (whose name is intentionally uncomfortable). The club is described as being “for the group of women, larger than you know, who go through life everyday carrying along the ghosts of the life they had and the life they almost did” and is intended both to get people talking about the uncomfortable topic of grief and bereavement at a young age, and to support all of the members who never wanted to be members but life had other ideas. She is extremely inspirational, and just reading her story has already given me so much more energy and drive to try and make a difference in my own small way through The Michael Barry Fund for The Brain Tumour Charity.
So, I wanted to take the opportunity to say how grateful I am to the author for sharing her story, and to tell everyone to GO READ THIS BOOK!
(And if you’d like to read more about the author’s story, there was an excellent piece in The Guardian recently to promote the book, and I’d highly recommend taking a read.)