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This Lovely Life – My Book Review

July 6, 2009

TLL coverLast year at BlogHer, I had the honor of meeting the women behind the “Raising Our Children with Special Needs” panel, thanks to the coincidence of being in the speaker’s prep room with them, and because my good friend Susan Etlinger was coordinating the panel.  These women were all unique, coming from different experiences and different walks of life, but they were united by their fierce love for their children, and their desire to do whatever they could to help people understand what exactly it’s like to be raising a special needs child.

The panel itself was remarkable – Susan opened the session by reading Vicki’s essay, The Mother at the Swings, which gave me a new perspective, as I have been both mothers in the essay at any given time in my life.   I tear up just thinking of the mom who gave birth months before the conference to a daughter with Downs Syndrome, and having Jennifer Graf Groneberg reach out to her and show her the support that she had been missing from her friends and family.  I heard moms and dads talk about how having a community of support in the blogosphere has kept them sane, which echoed my own experiences. 

After BlogHer, I began following Vicki’s blog, Speak Softly.  I learned about her youngest child Evan’s challenges and triumphs (Vicki’s son was a twin, born prematurely, and was multiply-disabled.  His sister Ellie passed after 4 days in the hospital.)   I enjoyed reading about her amazing daughter Josie and her wonderful husband Cliff.  Quite the family, under any circumstances. 

At the end of July, I was saddened, along with so many others, to hear about the loss of her son Evan.   No parent can imagine what that is like, and my heart broke for her.  As I continued to read her blog, I learned she was writing a book.  A memoir of her life as a mother of premature twins.  I kept in touch with her, on Twitter, Facebook, and her site.  We commented on each others posts and tweets. 

I recently finished reading her book, This Lovely Life.  It’s a beautiful look at a life that was worth living, even though at the time no one thought it would be.  It’s a look at how a woman finds it within herself to be the parent she never dreamed she would have to be.  How a family comes to love a boy for who he is, not who they hoped he might be. 

In the pages of the book, she never comes off as anything other than a woman thrust into circumstances that are unimaginable, who finds the strength to do what she needs to for her children.   That’s one reason the book is so readable.  She’s a great writer, drawing you in as a friend and confidant to her world.  You’d think this book would be horribly sad, but it’s not.  It’s not sappy, or my favorite descriptive word, squishy.  She doesn’t ask for sainthood, nor does she go around wearing a Superwoman “S” on her t-shirt.  Nor does she beat herself up when she wonders whether she can love a less than perfect child.  But just because she isn’t in awe of herself doesn’t mean that a reader can’t be.

My favorite moments:

*The nurse in the hospital who stayed with her while her daughter Ellie passed revealing that she got down on her knees that morning and begged God to give her the strength to do and say the right thing for Ellie and her parents.  I’m thankful they had someone like that to do and say the right things for them.  It was such a genuine thing, and it truly brought me to tears. 

*When Vicki wonders, why me, not in a pitying sense but in a truly questioning manner, she decides that, “I’ve been given this opportunity: to look at fear, forgive myself, learn how to love (myself, others, my son, no matter how imperfect he may be).  To practice detachment and patience.  To love my daughter no matter how large I perceive her demands to be, even though I have a son whom I feel needs me more.  It’s what I do in the face of this experience that matters.  Do I find ways to go on, or do I stop?” 

*Her husband, staid, firm and in control.  How did he do it?  She says it’s his Japanese heritage.  As he put it, most matter of factly, his “culture just accepts people who are sick and maimed.  We take care of people when we get old, and we take in people with disabilities.”  We can learn something here, people…

*Learning that their friends would fall into three categories after learning the news about the twins- rocks, wanna-be-theres, and gingerbread men.  Any parent who has been there can understand what that means.

* I chuckled when she talked of “monster babies” in the NICU.  (as an aside, if she had met my boy when he was in our NICU, she undoubtedly would have called him the supermonster.  He was almost 10 lbs at birth, but had issues that necessitated him being in there.  At one point, he was next to a friend’s baby who was born at 3 lbs.  Every time I see this kid, I marvel at how he bears no ill effects of his premature birth, nor his long stay in the NICU.  Marvel, yet, while still a bit jealous that was not my outcome.  But then I move on…and love the boy that I have, who’s pretty remarkable himself. )

Lastly, I’ve told everyone I run into, physically or virtually that I’m reading this book.  When they hear the story, there are a lot of OH MY GODs and OH MANs.  A few “how can you read that kind of a story” comments.  I don’t really know how to put this into words, but I am going to try.  This book is in no way depressing.  At the same time, it’s not one of those weepy, spiritually uplifting books (I don’t do squishy).  It’s honest and real, just like the author.  Anyone who is a special needs parent should read it, but really, the audience for this book should not be limited in any way.  Vicki Forman is an excellent writer, and I think anyone would be enriched from learning her story and going on her journey with her.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 6, 2009 5:30 pm

    This sounds like such a beautiful book and what an amazing woman.

  2. July 6, 2009 5:33 pm

    Thank you. This is beautiful.

  3. July 6, 2009 10:07 pm

    Kwana, I have one person reading my copy and then it is yours!

    Vicki, thank you for your comment, and thank you for taking the time to write about such incredibly personal experiences in a beautiful way. Your book truly is a gift.

  4. Kay Martin permalink
    July 6, 2009 10:16 pm

    It’s an amazing book for all the reasons you stated. I confess I cried a lot while reading it. Vicki’s writing style is lean and mean, for lack of a better description. She always picks the right word. The story she tells is so riveting that I was up way past my bedtime trying to finish it, to find out what happened next. I’m compelled to tell all my mom friends about this book when we meet. It’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in recent years. I feel extremely lucky to have stumbled upon Vicki via the Literay Mama website. She is a wonder.

  5. July 9, 2009 2:06 pm

    Have you read The Horse Boy?
    I am stuck half way through this story of an autistic child and his father’s quest for a non-traditional treatment.
    I think I will add this one to my list.
    Thanks!

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