Tag Archives: Grief

‘Bitter or Better’: Read this — and count your blessings

October 4, 2015


bitter or betterYou think fate has dealt you a lousy hand? Do you just never catch a break? Is life just not fair? Spend some time with Caryn Sullivan’s superbly written book and you’ll put your personal pity party on hold — maybe permanently.

In “Bittter or Better: Grappling with Life on the Op-Ed Page,” Sullivan tells the hardship story of her life, one tested by fire with a mother who married and divorced twice, smoke marijuana, moved the family from Baltimore to Puerto Rico back to Maryland and then to Utah, contracted colon cancer in her forties and died when the author was 23.

Sound rough?

You ain’t heard nothin’ yet.

Sullivan’s luck doesn’t turn around once she marries her “trophy husband,” as she called him. The first child they have together — Ted Sullivan had two children from a previous marriage — seems to be unable to hear. The boy turned out to be autistic. Learning to accept Jack for his gifts — and that autism is a condition, not a disease — is a lesson that doesn’t come easily.

Then there was breast cancer to deal with, and a double mastectomy. And a 10-year-old daughter who developed a rare, genetically acquired disease that required a bone marrow transplant — from her older brother.

“I’d been consumed by autism and illnesses for so long I scarcely recalled anything else,” Sullivan wrote. “The relentless crises were besting me. I often felt like a boxer being pummeled in the ring. Jab. Cross. Hook. Uppercut.”

Then her husband had a heart attack at 54 and died.

These Dickensian events alone make for can’t-put-it-down reading, but it’s actually what follows that makes “Bitter or Better” exceptional. How Sullivan coped through all this, how she listened to the advice of Father Joseph Johnson, a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who said she had the choice that became the title of the book, and how she followed that advice, will make you begin thinking about who you know who you should buy this book for.

It’s a book that’s part memoir, to be sure, but it’s just as much an advice or how-to book. The life lessons that Sullivan learned are spread throughout, but many come in the latter pages, where Sullivan shares commentary columns that she originally wrote for the daily newspaper in St. Paul, the Pioneer Press.

The journalism here shines. Sullivan tells inspiring stories, injecting the wisdom that came from being “pummeled like a boxer in the ring,” absorbing the punches and moving forward to better.

What pours out is her own humility, the ability to deal with crisis after crisis, and maybe the key to having that capacity.

She writes about the hours and days spent at the University of Minnesota’s Children’s Hospital and the other parents there with youngsters whose lives are hanging by a thread, and her response?

“As difficult as our experience was, it was not as bad as what many others endured. Everything in life is relative. And we were blessed.”

Who do you plan to send a copy of “Bitter or Better”?

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Guilt: Too heavy a burden? A must-read novel

August 26, 2014


How much guilt can you live with?

Knowing you’ve done something illegal and even hurtful, can the fact that the wrongful act also has brought joy be enough to overwhelm that guilt? And for how long?

M. L. Stedman brings those question out from hiding in the superbly written drama “The Light Between Oceans,” a New York Times bestseller that will soon come to movie screens.

Stedman’s setting of a lighthouse off the southwest coast of Australia and the small town that is its closest port takes readers to virgin literary territory. That’s always attractive, of course, to discover new lands through the written word.

But it’s the story that Stedman weaves that will grab readers’ attention and hold it for 322 pages, and the question she leads us to ask: What would we do?

The light coverOn that lonely island with the lighthouse between the Indian Ocean and the Great Southern Ocean below Australia, 100 miles from the nearest land, a married couple suffers through three miscarriages, the last very recent.

Then a dinghy washes up. In it is the body of a man. Although he’s dead, in the boat a baby cries, wrapped in a woman’s shawl. So the test begins.

Should the lighthouse keeper report this unusual event, or can the child become the baby he and his wife seem to be unable to create? Will he risk his career or, by dutifully telling the authorities about the child and the dead man, risk earning the scorn of his wife, who already has seen the baby’s arrival as a miracle from God?

Despite his misgivings, they keep the baby, pretending the wife has given birth. But how long with the charade last? How long can a person stand knowing that another woman is heartbroken and nearly insane from the loss of her infant child?

“The Light Between Oceans” is a wonderful read, a piece with both droplets of foreshadowing and unexpected turns of events, a testament to hope and prayer, an in-depth delving into joys and sorrows, into human nature and families, into life itself.


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Grief for guys — a man writes about the loneliness of loss

August 27, 2011


Bill Cento was called “the last hard-nosed newsman” at the St. Paul daily paper he helped to edit, so he surprised me with his amazingly sensitive book — most of it in poetry, of all things.
Cento has updated the first version of this short work, adding 22 pieces, yet it’s still only 90 some pages in small, paperback form.
It’s a unique book uniquely written and uniquely packaged to be helpful to others — perhaps men in particular — who have lost the love of their life.
The poetry is from the gut guy stuff, hard, honest and edited to the evisceral. Cento puts his anger and his ache into words like you’ve never read before. You’ll be wiping the wetness from your eyes.

Behind the hurt, hope

Each poem gets the briefest of introductions, with Cento usually explaining what was going on in his life that he had to get out.
He admitted that the writing was therapuetic for him, but his real reason for publishing it — and he’s self-publishing at this point — is to help others see that they are not alone, that they can get through their grief — and loneliness, especially the loneliness.
It’s a frankness we don’t get from most men, which makes “Alone: For All Those Who Grieve” valuable reading for those suffering a loss. But read it just for the beauty of the writing.

Few have written about the love in a marriage like this.

Many will appreciated the hope he offers to all who ache for a loved one who has left too soon.

Order it now on Amazon.com.

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