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review 2019-10-04 19:52
Forged Through Fire (memoir) by Mark McDonough, MD
Forged Through Fire: A Reconstructive Surgeon's Story of Survival, Faith and Healing - Mark D. McDonough, MD

When Mark McDonough was a teen, a catastrophic fire claimed the lives of his mother and younger brother. It also left Mark with burns on over 65 percent of his body. During a long and painful recovery, his faltering faith in God was strengthened by a remarkable near-death experience. Inspired to pursue a career as a plastic surgeon to help those who suffer as he has, McDonough has overcome numerous other adversities on his journey, including addiction and a stroke. Now he shares his incredible true story of survival and perseverance to bring hope and healing to those dealing with great physical and emotional pain. Anyone who has suffered or watched a loved one suffer from a personal trauma, disease, or loss that has tested or stolen their faith and exhausted their emotional resources will find real hope in this redemptive story.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

In 1976, author Mark McDonough, as a teen, survived a house fire that tragically took the lives of his mother and youngest brother while also leaving 65% of his own body covered in deep burns. McDonough uses Forged Through Fire to share with readers his story of painful healing --- both emotionally and physically --- and the life lessons learned along the way. 

 

Doctors roughly calculate the mortality or likelihood of burn death by adding the age of the victim to the percentage of burns relative to their total body surface area. Sixteen years of age plus burns to 60-70% of my nearly naked body indicated that I had roughly a 20% chance or less of surviving. 

 

In addition to surviving the house fire, McDonough also includes stories of other medical challenges he's survived that required similar therapy programs, from contracting Guillian-Barre Syndrome as a small boy (which led to him temporarily being placed in an iron lung) to being surprised by a stroke as a young married man. If that's not enough, he also has a tale of falling prey to but eventually overcoming a period of alcoholism --- something he always promised himself would never be part of his life, despite coming from two parents who also struggled with alcohol addiction. McDonough's experiences with addiction begin as a way to self-medicate the pain of his injuries. That particular pain management option begins to lose its allure for him, but once a habit develops, the process out is a tricky one, requiring much dedication and patience.

 

Many claim that when faith is strong enough, there is no cause for fear. But for me, it was within the context of fear that my quest for faith began. It seemed only natural that I should fear the potentially challenging obstacles ahead or the pain that I expected to confront along the way. Yet, I was learning that I could have those fears while remaining faithful that God would stay nearby if I asked him to, helping me meet the demands head-on.

 

 

WARNING, READERS: THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH! I have a pretty strong stomach for most things and even I was cringing and squirming through several of the medical procedure descriptions shared here. It's not ALL rough. I mean, there are passages describing some of his therapy including learning to speak and swallow again because his throat lining was so badly damaged in the fire. He mentions developing pressure sores from being kept supine for so long while waiting for his skin grafts to take. Description-wise, those parts aren't so bad, but the OTHER parts --- the cleaning of the wounds (when he talks of having the cleanings done with Betodine --- I had my own memory recall from that one! The brief but intense BURN of that stuff! *shudder* It is effective though!), the bandage dressing, anathesia not taking and him waking up during one of his surgeries.... yeah! 

 

Some of the therapists and doctors I met, like Dr. Fratianne, were among the most intelligent and admirable people I knew. I respected their character and their demonstrated ability to care. A few, however, had no idea about how to communicate or deal with people. They could tend to the body but overlooked the person, and they all but denied the spirit. I felt particularly sensitive to issues of pain and being dependently at the mercy of others; this was where I felt I could really make a difference and affect a positive change. I began to nurture that notion.

 

Keep in mind, this memoir is written by a doctor, so it naturally does run heavy with medical terminology, but to his credit McDonough does a pretty solid job of quickly following up with an explanation in layman's terms. He also shows incredible talent for getting his readers to truly feel the struggle and anguish of his painful journey to "being okay", you might say. McDonough doesn't hold back about keeping things real regarding his emotions, frustrations, the trying path of learning to overcome new physical limitations, and ultimately the joy in small victories during this arduous experience in healing. And healing wasn't just about his skin resealing or him regaining movement. McDonough also gets into the shift in the bonds between him, his father, and his surviving brothers, as well as the guilt associated with the amount of attention his outpatient recuperation period required of everyone. 

 

Contrary to the beliefs of many, nowhere in the Bible does it say that God won't give us more than we can handle. But much is written about how God will provide the strength we need to survive those things we fear handling.

 

 

After intensive physical and occupational therapy sessions (one story notes he was able to finish high school, in part, because the school accepted his hours of therapy as PE credits), McDonough is inspired to become a physical therapist himself. His experiences with patients in this field later encourage him to take it further, becoming a reconstructive surgeon. With his work in medicine, and now this memoir, McDonough hopes that his story can inspire others working to overcome various traumas to continue fighting the good fight.

 

 

Dr. Frat spoke about how some people get stuck harboring resentments, exhausting themselves over things of the past that they don't understand. Something started to stir inside me. I knew what it was like to have no energy left to do anything.  Why waste those precious resources on things that aren't going to change anything? Why not invest that limited energy or strength into something real, positive, and in the here and now, not in a past that cannot be changed?

 

 

In another part of this memoir, McDonough also mentions the guilt 

his father struggled with because of new smoke detectors

that he had purchased for the home but decided to delay installing

until he came back from his business trip. McDonough's father was

on this trip when the fateful fire broke out.

 

 

 

On a sidenote, kudos to him for closing his acknowledgements section with a shout-out to EMS workers. As a firefighter wife, I had to smile at this! :-)

 

I was also not expecting him to close the book with an eyewitness account of the murder of singer / Youtuber Christina Grimmie!

 

Honestly, I'm surprised this hasn't been optioned as a movie, but I won't be surprised if I see it is later. 

 

 

FTC DISCLAIMER: Revell Books kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

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review 2019-07-06 13:33
Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart
Summer at Tiffany LP - Marjorie Hart

Do you remember the best summer of your life? New York City, 1945. Marjorie Jacobson and her best friend, Marty Garrett, arrive fresh from the Kappa house at the University of Iowa hoping to find summer positions as shopgirls. Turned away from the top department stores, they miraculously find jobs as pages at Tiffany & Co., becoming the first women to ever work on the sales floor—a diamond-filled day job replete with Tiffany blue shirtwaist dresses from Bonwit Teller's—and the envy of all their friends.Hart takes us back to the magical time when she and Marty rubbed elbows with the rich and famous; pinched pennies to eat at the Automat; experienced nightlife at La Martinique; and danced away their weekends with dashing midshipmen. Between being dazzled by Judy Garland's honeymoon visit to Tiffany, celebrating VJ Day in Times Square, and mingling with Café Society, she fell in love, learned unforgettable lessons, made important decisions that would change her future, and created the remarkable memories she now shares with all of us.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

NYC, 1945: Author Marjorie Hart (then Marjorie Jacobson) and friend / sorority sister Martha "Marty" Garrett were just a couple of young Iowa girls who jumped headfirst into life in the Big Apple, hoping to find exciting positions in upscale department stores. They thought they'd be guaranteed work at Lord & Taylor because three other sorority sisters were hired on there, but on arrival Marjorie and Marty were told there would be nothing for them until the fall season. Desparately needing work, they hit the pavement, inquring at a number of other stores, only to be repeatedly turned away. Then that monumental moment came: Marty, feeling bold, suggested they see what Tiffany & Co. department store had to offer...even though at that time, sales floor positions were held exclusively by men. I mean, after being turned down so many times in one day, what's one more no, right?

 

It turns out the ladies picked a fortuitous time to apply for work there. Because of World War II, the store was short on pages, the guys that ran orders back and forth between the sales floors and the repairs and shipping departments. It was decided by management that day that Marjorie and Marty would become the first women ever to hold sales floor positions with the iconic jewelry and home goods retailer.  

 

In this memoir, Marjorie recalls all the most memorable scenes of that glorious summer: daily lunches with Marty at the Automat, evenings at the Stork Club, flirting with military men at dances. Hart also shares a couple of her favorite celebrity sightings while working for the store: Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich. Judy Garland popped in while on her honeymoon. Later, when Dietrich came in, Hart mentions feeling a connection to her because of their shared musical background --- Hart being a trained cellist, Dietrich a violinist.

 

That summer, Hart was also witness to a couple of highly emotionally charged moments, one being her memory of being in Times Square on VJ Day, seeing the announcement that WW2 had officially ended projected onto Times Tower. 

 

We stayed rooted to our spot with one eye on the Times Tower and the other on the street. Suddenly, at three minutes after seven, the big screen went dark. The crowd seemed to pause momentarily in anticipation. When the lights came on, the screen read:

 

**** OFFICIAL **** TRUMAN ANNOUNCES JAPANESE SURRENDER

 

A thunderous roar rose from the crowd. Church bells pealed, air-raid sirens wailed, cars honked, tugboats tooted, firecrackers exploded, and people cheered as confetti and paper fell from the windows. Near me, an old man threw his cane in the air. An army private kissed every girl he could find. Including me. Streams of tears ran down the cheeks of an elderly woman as she watched the words circling the tower. No one was a stranger in that crowd. 

 

 

The other was the day a plane crashed into the Empire State Building. It was not an act of terrorism. Disoriented by the fog that morning of July 28th, pilot William F. Smith flew his B-25 Army bomber into the side of the building. Newspapers later reported that he HAD been advised to land earlier, but decided to disregard. His decision to do so cost the lives of thirteen people (including his own) and injured twenty-six more. 

 

After that summer, Marjorie left her position at Tiffany's but promised to return one day. She went on to pursue a musical career, joining the San Diego Symphony in 1954. She also played accompaniment to a number of famous acts such as Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis, Jr. , Liberace, and Nat King Cole. In 1965, Marjorie decided to return to school, going on to earn her master's degree in music from San Diego State University. She began teaching music at University of San Diego (yes, they are different schools) in 1967, becoming chair of the Fine Arts Dept in 1978. Marjorie retired as professor emerita in 1993 and retired from performing music professionally in 2004 at the age of 80. It wasn't until 2004 that she finally fulfilled the promise to return to Tiffany's for a visit (cue end of A League of Their Own). 

 

This was such a lovely, easy breezy read full of wonderful notes of history and nostalgia, so if that's your jam, this is definitely perfect summertime chill-out material for you! It certainly leave the reader thinking on one's own pivotal moments in life, those that feel like basic, everyday moments at the time but turn out to be essential to forming your later self. 

 

I will say, I was left curious as to what happened to Jim... that part of the story just seemed to go off into the ether... but the way she left it, I imagine it was one of those connections that just seemed to quietly fizzle out after the war. 

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review 2019-06-12 19:57
Loving My Actual Neighbor by Alexandra Kuykendall
Loving My Actual Neighbor: 7 Practices to Treasure the People Right in Front of You - Alexandra Kuykendall

As Christians, we know we are called to love our neighbor. We may even grasp that "neighbor" encompasses more than just the people living next door or down the street. But what we too often don't know is how to begin. How do we love our neighbor? Where do we start? What does this look like in our increasingly isolated world? Following practices outlined in the first chapter of 2 Peter, Alexandra Kuykendall lays out the framework for where to begin. From practicing humility to listening with understanding to being generous in our relationships, Loving My Actual Neighbor offers practical, start-now steps readers can take to love their neighbors. With her approachable, friendly tone and down-to-earth advice, Kuykendall has carved out for herself a place in the hearts of readers, who will be thrilled to extend her commonsense approach into this sphere of their lives.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

In this latest installment of her Loving My Actual ______ series, Kuykendall ponders on the question: In an increasingly socially isolating world, how does one go about showing love for one's neighbor. Her use of the word "neighbor", she clarifies, isn't limited to one's literal next door neighbor, but really anyone we come in close proximity to throughout the course of our lives. 

 

The inspiration for this newest book came to Alexandra through her realization that she knew little to nothing of the woman living across the street from her for several years --- even though they had spoken briefly a number of times. Alexandra knew they had common ground between them, both being mothers of young children, but for the life of her, she could never remember her neighbor's name! Kuykendall compiles stories of not only her own journey to be a better neighbor, but also those of her friends and acquaintances who'd had a similar epiphany and also put themselves on a path toward change. 

 

Considering all these accounts she gathers together, Kuykendall comes up with a seven step plan on how to better appreciate our fellow humans. Using biblical text, primarily pulling from 2 Peter, Kuykendall's system brings it all back to the basics of just being a good-hearted human being. She encourages readers to pursue strong, nurturing relationships with others on a foundation of humility, empathy, and, ideally, unconditional generosity.  Each chapter closes on prompts for reflection: "Scripture to Digest" (relevant bible passage to think on); "Questions for Reflection"; "Practicing the Practice", which offers Pay It Forward type ideas to engage with others, making extra effort to speak to the lonely or isolated, etc; and "A Call To Saturday Living", a sort of meditative prayer focusing on how to best implement the themes of that chapter. 

 

KUYKENDALL'S 7 STEP PLAN

 

1. Holding a posture of humility

2. Asking questions to learn

3. Being quiet to listen

4. Standing in the awkward

5. Accepting what is

6. Lightening up

7. Giving freely

 

Once you have that foundation down, Kuykendall branches out into more specific suggestions of bonding with your neighbor: 

 

* Re: Conversations: Use open-ended questions, followed by clarification questions to show you are truly listening to the speaker, as well as follow-up questions for a later meet-up, to show you've been thinking of them. She points out: you never know when you might be the one person who bothered to check in on them when they needed it most! She also reminds readers to be prepared for an honest response to your questions and be empathetic enough to hear the person out! Additionally, take non-verbal cues into consideration (body language, facial expressions) and consider the setting of the conversation. Is the subject matter something that requires privacy? Is the setting generally hospitable?

 

* Cultural Filters: When interacting with others, consider specifics of the situation that may make their reaction different from what you might expect. Are they in mourning? Otherwise suffered a trauma? Are there cultural differences to take into account --- something that seems fine to you but might be considered offensive to them?

 

* Disputes: how to best give or receive forgiveness

 

* Food / Humor: useful in diffusing difficult situations

 

* Teamwork: tips on how to successfully partner with neighbors on projects

 

 

At the end of the book, Kuykendall offers a supplement, several pages long, entitled "More Ways To Connect With Your Neighbor". Within are a few different segments: "Additional Ideas for Practicing the Practice", "10 Ways to Connect with Families Throughout the Year" "10 Ways to Love Your Homebound Neighbor", and "10 Reasons to Have a Block Party".

 

When taking all this information in, Kuykendall frequently reminds her readers, practice makes perfect. This is not meant to be a one and done process, but an entire reboot in one's social interaction, intended to be carried out (hopefully) for the rest of your days. One of the portions I found most helpful was questions to ask when checking your motives for doing something:

 

* Am I investing in the outcome or the process?

* Am I expecting something in return?

* What am I willing to give up in order to love my neighbors well? 

* Would I do it anonymously?

* Will there be unintended consequences?

 

My honest response to this book, having read the previous two? This was my least favorite of the bunch. I got a lot out of the first two, and while there were still some good tips in this third one, and while I love that Kuykendall terms herself a "kitchen anthropologist", this third offering in the series had a few areas I found disturbingly problematic, given the theme of the work.

 

Yes, it has helpful pointers, but largely the message is one of common sense human decency. I don't know if she ran short on ideas and had to hit word count, but like many a self-help book out there, she establishes a few key points early on and then pretty much just repackages those ideas in numerous different ways throughout the following chapters. 

 

Beyond the repetitive nature of the text, there was an underlying element to this book that just SCREAMED privilege and bias. She swears she's not a judgmental person, yet some of her actions involving those of a lower income bracket than her family would (at least in part) indicate otherwise. There's even a line where she says (verbatim),"I have relationships with people who live in poverty." Wow. Okay. Way to put yourself out there?

 

Then there's the weird and frequent focus on the race of her various neighbors, usually closing with a pat on the back for herself for interacting with a minority without making it too awkward. In fact, there's a healthy dose of quiet humble brag throughout the whole book. But at least she does acknowledge that she does see needing to consistently work on her prideful nature. 

 

It's a worthwhile topic for discussion --- being better people to our fellow man --- and Kuykendall brings up fair suggestions.... but really, it's stuff we should know anyway, if we've been raised right.  Sadly, now, my once happy opinion of her work has been somewhat tainted over the privileged, disconnected tone that came through this latest work. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Baker Books kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

____

My reviews for the previous two books in this series:

 

LOVING MY ACTUAL LIFE

LOVING MY ACTUAL CHRISTMAS

 

_____

 

EXTRAS

 

LOVING MY ACTUAL NEIGHBOR BOOK TRAILER LINK

(Scroll down to bottom of page to see video)

 

INTERVIEW WITH KUYKENDALL RE: LOVING MY ACTUAL NEIGHBOR

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review 2019-03-16 23:22
Daughter of Neptune by Theresa Wisner
Daughter of Neptune: ...found at sea - Theresa Wisner

This powerful memoir touched the hearts of both readers and reviewers. Theresa Wisner follows in the wake of her fishing brothers to the far outposts of the world in an attempt to please her fishing father. With impeccable detail, Wisner paints a picture of life at sea from a young woman’s perspective. With courage and grit, she tells the story of addiction and recovery, and coming of age far later than most. Daughter of Neptune powerfully captures the beauty and the coarseness of a foreign world that creates the backdrop for healing.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Theresa Wisner has done extensive traveling all over the world. She has twenty years of experience in commercial fishing, served as a chief steward in the Merchant Marine, she's even the recipient of the Congressional Antarctic Service medal. Largely driven by a lifelong need to feel acceptance from an often emotionally distanced father, Wisner's travels and work experiences culminate in one impressive tale of a woman time and again pushing herself to succeed in a male-dominated industry. 

 

Daughter of Neptune documents not only her life at sea, but also land-based downtime during the fishing off-season, divided between part-time waitressing work and off-time hours spent at various dive bars around the world. Introduced to the fishing industry (through her father) at a mere nine years old, Wisner grows up learning the ins and outs of the business before eventually following the path of three of her four older brothers, who all joined fishing crews. Wisner's experiences are unique in that of the crews she's signed onto, she's often either THE only woman or one of only a couple on board, meaning her stories are seasoned with humorous, sometimes crass locker room style behavior from her shipmates, not to mention an intensive trial-by-fire approach to on-the-job training, whether serving on deck crew or in the kitchens.

 

Right from the opening lines, the reader is immediately thrust into Wisner's salt encrusted landscape, painting such an atmospheric scene as to make it clear to the reader why she's so drawn to this particular way  of life:

 

I smell the salt. It's carried on the breath of the earth here, and in the mist that hangs in the air. It clings to the inside of my nose and it tickles and is tangy, all at once. On my skin, a damp coating of fine crystals. I lick my lips and taste the sea.

 

Later on, she writes of being on a ship while sailing past Priest Rock, approaching the Bering Sea. I was not familiar with this point prior to reading this book, but her description had me immediately doing an image search for a visual and while having never been there myself, I can't help but feel her words must ring spot on truth. 

 

 

Wisner's unvarnished account of her experiences is admirable. While maybe not every little detail is divulged, she doesn't shy away from being upfront with the reader when it comes to discussing her struggles with depression, occasional suicidal thoughts, and addiction -- the fight, the recovery, relapse, and gradual journey back to recovery once again. It's also interesting to read an account of someone whose livelihood is dependent on a life at sea battling sea sickness the first few days of every new trip, even years into such a career! 

 

She's also real about the job itself. Point blank, Wisner lets readers know there's plenty about the work that is flat-out disgusting and sometimes even boring. She brings you in and lets you imagine: days or weeks aboard a ship with no shower facilities, your body and clothes covered in a hardened layer of salt, sweat, blood and fish guts. Wisner points out that many men she sailed with just got used to that state of... dishevelment, shall we call it... and just waited until they were back in port somewhere before considering a wash up. You can imagine how ripe they must have been by then! Not being about that life, Wisner devises a system of heating water and then transferring it to a garden watering can, pouring the water over her as a makeshift showerhead.

 

There's also some mention of the disappointing state of the trash filled oceans around the world, how it's hard to ignore when you're living in the middle of it.

 

Even if one manages to freshen up after a long day's work, Wisner explains that there's still the bouts of boredom one has to learn to navigate. But while she might feel disappointment at the monotony of weeks at sea, there's also a freedom in it. You can become comfortable in the reliability of routine. Still, it's the sea... a place where you definitely don't want to get too complacent.

 

The irony: when you're on land you itch to get back on the sea, when you're on the sea, you long for the conveniences and socialization of landlubber life. You're never guaranteed to mesh well with the crew you're hired on to. Early on, she talks of sailing experiences with old salt Phil, who seems alright at first, but turns out to have a violent side when it comes to processing shark meat. When he sees the looks she gives him, his response is "You'll understand when they eat $1000 of your fish." Umm, no, Phil. You fish shark territory, so technically, you're stealing THEIR food... Don't know that Phil and I would've gotten along so well, lol. 

 

Wisner admits to quite frequently feeling the temptation to quit, but it always comes back to the need to feel a connection with her father. Not only does he not like quitters, but this fishing life brings about a closeness between them that nothing else can. So she stays.

 

The writing at times lacks a bit of the finesse one might expect from an established professional writer --- some passages could be edited down, while others beg more detail --- but any technical shortcomings are certainly well made up for through Wisner's heart coming through, particularly through her honest account of the struggle of child-parent relationships when they move into the child's adulthood. 

 

My heart plunges with shame of not being good enough. Not being big enough. And especially not being boy enough.

 

 

Wisner, above anything, wants her father's approval. Every action, every life choice, on some level, is driven by this fact. She just happens to have the kind of parent who is reserved (to say the least) when doling out affection and evidence of pride in their offspring. I saw so much of my own father in Wisner's, I felt a sense of ... community, almost (maybe also because I was raised a "Navy brat" lol)... on a level I don't often reach with memoirs. I felt it most strongly with the passages where she gets into the hardships of such a relationship in adulthood.... where you have a parent you still seek approval from, even when reason tells you the bulk of their actions don't deserve or inspire respect... but as an adult, you can't help but acknowledge that that IS still your parent. If they gave you nothing else, they did give you life, so it's not unfathomable or even uncommon to feel responsible for them as they age, regardless of how they might have wronged you. Man, did I feel the truth in that. 

 

While this book has only been out a short time, I've already seen it drawing comparisons to Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I can see where similarities could be drawn between the two, but I personally wasn't all that impressed with Wild. While shorter in length, I found much more heart and realness to Daughter of Neptune. Though I will say: a little admission here, Below Deck is one of my "guilty pleasure" tv programs, and I could also see some similarities between that and this, so if you're a fan of that show, maybe check Wisner's book out! 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Author Theresa Wisner kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

 

 

-------------------------

 

 

EXTRAS

 

* If you want to add some ambiance to your reading experience with this one, I had OCEAN STORM SOUNDS playing in the background while I did my reading! 

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review 2019-02-19 22:52
You Will Not Have My Hate (memoir) by Antoine Leiris
You Will Not Have My Hate - Antoine Leiris

On November 13, 2015, Antoine Leiris’s wife, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, was killed by terrorists while attending a rock concert at the Bataclan Theater in Paris, in the deadliest attack on France since World War II. Three days later, Leiris wrote an open letter addressed directly to his wife’s killers, which he posted on Facebook. He refused to be cowed or to let his seventeen-month-old son’s life be defined by Hélène’s murder. He refused to let the killers have their way: “For as long as he lives, this little boy will insult you with his happiness and freedom.” Instantly, that short Facebook post caught fire, and was reported on by newspapers and television stations all over the world. In his determination to honor the memory of his wife, he became an international hero to everyone searching desperately for a way to deal with the horror of the Paris attacks and the grim shadow cast today by the threat of terrorism. Now Leiris tells the full story of his grief and struggle. You Will Not Have My Hate is a remarkable, heartbreaking, and, indeed, beautiful memoir of how he and his baby son, Melvil, endured in the days and weeks after Hélène’s murder. With absolute emotional courage and openness, he somehow finds a way to answer that impossible question: how can I go on? He visits Hélène’s body at the morgue, has to tell Melvil that Mommy will not be coming home, and buries the woman he had planned to spend the rest of his life with. Leiris’s grief is terrible, but his love for his family is indomitable. This is the rare and unforgettable testimony of a survivor, and a universal message of hope and resilience. Leiris confronts an incomprehensible pain with a humbling generosity and grandeur of spirit. He is a guiding star for us all in these perilous times. His message—hate will be vanquished by love—is eternal.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

On November 13, 2015, French journalist Antoine Leiris stayed at home with his 17 month old son, Melvil, while wife Hélène attended a concert at the Bataclan Theater in Paris. Terrorists attacked the concert venue that night, making it the deadliest terrorist attack on France since WWII. Almost immediately after the attack, Leiris gets a text from a friend asking "Are you okay?". Confused by the message, something tells him to check the news. It is then he gets the first news of the attack. Leiris quickly calls his siblings who come over to help watch Melvil while Leiris heads out to try to find out what happened to his wife. Hours later, he gets the news. She's been identified among the casualties. 

 

Of course, having a culprit, someone to take the brunt of your anger, is an open door, an chance to temporarily escape your suffering. And the more odious the crime, the more ideal the culprit, the more legitimate your hatred. You think about him in order not to think about yourself. You hate him in order to not hate what's left of your life. You rejoice at his death in order not to have to smile at those who remain.

 

Three days later, Leiris in his grief pens an open letter to his wife's murderers and posts it to FB, where he tells them point blank that while they might have stolen his wife from him, he will not give them the satisfaction of his hate or fear. He promises to live for his son, dedicating himself to focusing on the joy, beauty and decency he still believes exists in the world. He will strive to live in a space of love, terrorism has not claimed his soul. 

 

There are only two of us -- my son and myself -- but we are stronger than all the armies of the world. Anyway, I don't have any more time to waste on you, as I must go see Melvil, who is just waking up from his nap. He is only seventeen months old. He will eat his snack as he does every day, then we will play as we do every day, and all his life this little boy will defy you by being happy and free. Because you will not have his hate either.


~ from the open letter posted on FB

 

That open letter (included in the book) soon becomes the inspiration for this brief memoir, which focuses on the first few days of Leiris's life after receiving the news of his wife's death. In fact, he mentions starting on the first few pages of this book just a day or two after posting the letter online.

 

Translated from the original French by Sam Taylor, You Will Not Have My Hate, is a quick read of a memoir that packs a wallop of an emotional cocktail! Grief, reluctant acceptance, determination, a slow peace... it's all here. It's horrible that such a memoir has to exist, but somehow... French journalist Leiris brings a painful beauty to each page. Not only does he adamantly deny victory to the terrorists, he gives an achingly lovely tribute to the lost piece of his heart. 

 

In search of another lover to torment, it goes on its way, abandoning me to its sad traveling companion. Mourning. 

 

I spot its mark, a gray stain that appears on my side. I have already seen it grow, in the same place, a few years ago, when I lost my mother. This one is darker. It spreads faster too. It is only a question of days, weeks now; I am besieged. It covers almost the whole of my stomach. I no longer feel like doing anything. Eating is torture....

 

Watching from a distance, you always have the impression that the person who survives a disaster is a hero. I know I am not. I was struck by the hand of fate, that's all. It did not ask me what I thought first. It didn't try to find out if I was ready. It came to take Hélène, and it forced me to wake up without her. Since then, I have been lost: I don't know where I am going, I don't know how to get there. You can't really count on me....from one day to the next, I might drown.

 

And suddenly, I am afraid. Afraid that I won't be able to meet people's expectations. Will I no longer have the right to lack courage? The right to feel angry. The right to feel overwhelmed. The right to be tired. The right to drink too much and start smoking again. The right to see another woman, or not see other women. The right not to love again, ever. Not to rebuild my life and not to want a new life. The right not to feel like playing, going to the park, telling a story. The right to make mistakes. The right to make bad decisions. The right to not have time. The right not to be present. The right not to be funny. The right to be cynical. The right to have bad days. The right to wake up late... The right to not talk about it anymore. The right to be ordinary. The right to be afraid. The right not to know. The right not to want. The right not to be capable.

 

~ Leiris describing his grief

 

Each chapter starts with a timestamp of how much time has passed since the attack. Even without the horrific backdrop of the Paris attacks, this is still one of the most honest grief memoirs I think I've ever picked up. Leiris writes of the brutal moment of having to officially identify his wife at the morgue, having to not only sort out and let go of her things but also find the strength to decide on a burial outfit. He describes meeting with a friend, only identified as N., who had attended the concert with his wife. N struggles with deep survivor's guilt, which Leiris tries his best to help his friend through.

 

Some of the most difficult passages to read, the ones that really made me feel for him, were the ones describing the moments of weakness when he would feel like he was failing as a father, desperately wishing for his wife to come in and save the day with some task he remembered her being more skilled in, or the painful reality of the actual window of time society expects grief to pass in, that the quickly offered "take all the time you need" is actually just a nicety used to get over the awkward, more often than not. But in reality, you hardly  have time to process the loss before the logistics come rushing in --- last wishes, insurance money, final expenses, etc. Though people feel for you, everyone seems to want an answer NOW. 

 

Leiris' straightforward approach gets right to the reader's heart and is bound to be appreciated by anyone feeling the need for a moving but not overly sentimental grief memoir.

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