Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: Until I Say Goodbye: A Book about Living by Susan Spencer-Wendel

On the jacket:

In June 2011, Susan Spencer-Wendel learned she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)--Lou Gehrig's disease--an irreversible condition that systematically destroys the nerves that power the muscles. She was forty-four years old, with a devoted husband and three young children, and she had only one year of health remaining.

Susan decided to live that year with joy.

She quit her job as a journalist and spent time with her family. She built an outdoor meeting space for friends in her backyard. And she took seven trips with the seven most important people in her life. As her health declined, Susan journeyed to the Yukon, Hungary, the Bahamas, and Cyprus. She took her sons to swim with dolphins, and her teenage daughter, Marina, to Kleinfeld's bridal shop in New York City to see her for the first and last time in a wedding dress.

She also wrote this book. No longer able to walk or even to lift her arms, she tapped it out letter by letter on her iPhone using only her right thumb, the last finger still working.

However, Until I Say Good-Bye is not angry or bitter. It is sad in parts--how could it not be?--but it is filled with Susan's optimism, joie de vivre, and sense of humor. It is a book about life, not death. One that, like Susan, will make everyone smile.

From the Burger King parking lot where she cried after her diagnosis to a snowy hot spring near the Arctic Circle, from a hilarious family Christmas disaster to the decrepit monastery in eastern Cyprus where she rediscovered her heritage, Until I Say Good-Bye is not only Susan Spencer-Wendel's unforgettable gift to her loved ones--a heartfelt record of their final experiences together--but an offering to all of us: a reminder that "every day is better when it is lived with joy."


What do you do right after you have finished reading a book that made you happy and sad, made you weep and laugh, made you suffer and learn to reason better?

I hug such books tight and resolve never to let go of them. I did the same with Susan Spencer-Wendel's Until I Say Goodbye: A Book about Living.

The synopsis will tell you what the book is about. Let me tell you what the book did to me, and might do to you, as well! Susan is unwell. And she is finding joy in living the rest of her days, as she sees her condition deteriorate day after day. Not at a single point, will you feel pity. Susan will not let you. Such a beautifully crafted book, highlighting the fun, the frolic and the happy times as much as the disappointments, the visit to the doctors and reaching road ends. It was as if the author wanted the readers to laugh more than they cried.

Don't get me wrong here, nothing comical about this book. The author gets diagnosed with ALS, where her muscles and nerves start deteriorating and getting weak. She is told there is no cure for this, and with time, all her organs will stop functioning and she will be paralysed, so subsequently die.  Susan, a mother of three, the youngest being autistic, goes from denial and not agreeing to accept it, to getting treatment for it. All this, she does, while travelling, with her children, family, friends - forming memories. 

I think I will read Until I Say Goodbye again. And, again. Until I learn to be a strong person myself.

Beautiful. Moving. Inspiring. Highly recommended.

Rating: *****/5

[This review is for Hachette India. The opinions are strictly my own and not been written under any obligation.]

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