Trigger warning: this post will discuss two different books. Terminal disease and assisted suicide are discussed in one and childhood sexual abuse is discussed in the other.
There are some books that are a pure delight to read. Their topics are enchanting; you can’t put the book down and before you know it, it’s over. And then there are the emotionally wrought books on tough topics that are not fun to talk about: abuse, trauma, grief, and loss. Without question, these books are hard to read. They’re also important to read. Pain and trauma exist in darkness. When darkness is illuminated, healing can begin.
I try to be thoughtful about my state of mind before I open myself up to someone else’s distress. If I’m already feeling depressed, the last thing I want to do is step into a painful world with traumatic events that will only sadden me further. Both of the books I discuss below were books I was interested to read, but I had to “psych” myself up to read them. These books examine difficult subjects and are not for everyone. Reader’s discretion is advised.
I listen to This American Life regularly. In September, they released an episode titled Ends of the Earth with stories that involve an exploration of the upper most limits of what you do for someone you love. The second act was an abridged version of Amy Bloom’s story, with excerpts from the audiobook, which Bloom narrates herself.
In In Love, NewYork Times best selling author Amy Bloom chronicles her relationship with Brian, her third husband, his Alzheimer’s diagnosis at 65, and his decision to “die on his feet” that led them to Dignitas, an organization based in Switzerland that empowers a person to end their own life with dignity and peace. The strength and love of Amy and Brian were beautiful. If you have endured the loss of a loved one, you may find comfort in the beautiful goodbye Bloom was able to choreograph with Brian.
This memoir is beautifully written with engaging prose that captures you from the first page. And it’s a hard book to read. In fact, I read it in 24 hours simply because I couldn’t endure inhabiting Jessica’s world for any longer than necessary. Jessica Willis Fisher grew up the eldest daughter in a large, highly controlled, fundamentalist Christian household. Originally from the south side of Chicago, Fisher’s father, Toby Willis, is the older brother of the six Willis children who died in a fiery van crash near Milwaukee in 1994 that exposed the license for bribes scandal in Illinois. Twenty years later, Toby Willis, wife Brenda, and their twelve children skyrocketed to fame after debuting their Irish musical family act (The Willis Clan) on America’s Got Talent, with a reality television show to follow. However, not everything was as idyllic as it seemed; behind closed doors Toby was abusive. Fisher elegantly narrates the manipulation and codependency that defines abusive family relationships. Liberating herself from the shame and secrets, Fisher lets us see the formative moments of her childhood through her eyes. With unflinching bravery, Fisher describes the intensive therapy she has gone through to free herself from her father’s control and finally find her voice.
For those that will see themselves in Bloom’s story, or Fisher’s story, these kinds of books help illuminate the darkness, where you too can be safely seen and known. With less darkness in the world, there are fewer places for monsters to hide.