Cancer, Faith, And Unexpected Joy: What My Mother Taught Me About How To Live And How To Die, by Becky Baudouin
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
There is an art in both living and dying well, and it is not always an easy art to learn. It is perhaps unsurprising in an age of ours that lives and dies so poorly that the subject should increasingly be the subject of books . One thing that gives this book a good start is the fact that it is very easy to be empathetic with the author in her suffering and grief–the text reveals her problems with stuttering, her high degree of ambient anxiety, and the generational patterns of dysfunction in her family. As is the case with many extremely anxious and timid people, the author finds herself greatly drawn to music and writing as ways of expressing her because she finds it particularly difficult to articulate what she is feeling. In a book like this, building the compassion of an audience is of particular importance, as one’s patience with the sometimes repetitious way the author goes about unwinding her story depends in large part on the understanding of the reader.
This book consists of 40 very short chapters that average about 4 pages apiece (the book as a whole is just over 160 pages or so of writing) that amount to the author’s observations and reflections about a time extending from when her mom first informed her that she likely had lung cancer to a period of several years after the death of the author’s mother that finds her gradually overcoming her grief and coming to terms with her mother’s death. In between we find out a lot about the author and her family background almost offhand, from the author’s early interest in the piano to the fact that her stuttering even continued (at least once) in her adulthood, to the sense of shame that she felt and to the way that her mother felt guilty for having smoked for so many years and resolved to accept the likelihood of death when no treatment options were available. The author reveals her friendships and her relationship with her husband, who struggles himself with a degenerative illness that may be the subject of another book, and her love of travel and the thoughts and feelings of her own children about their grandmother. Despite the fact that the storytelling is not very straightforward, it is certainly sincere and heartwarming.
Given this, this is the sort of book that will likely appeal very strongly to sentimental women who have a close relationship with their own mothers, or at least who are dealing with the pain of losing their mothers to prolonged illnesses. Given my own somewhat complicated relationship with my father, this book is an interesting counterpoint to my own process of wrestling with his dying and death, something which perhaps will be the subject of much future writing of my own–it will likely not making for as joyful a book as this manages to be. There is still a great deal of poignancy though in the way the author deals with her divorced parents and their efforts to become friends again after having had disastrously poor communication long before their split. This book is yet another reminder, if any reminder was necessary, that the dysfunction of family can have serious consequences, and that developing godly faith can help us overcome at least some of the damage we suffer from our broken families. The result is a bittersweet message of both hope and sorrow, elements of living and dying that many readers will be all too familiar with.
 See, for example: