A few years ago, my family went through a great sadness. In a very short amount of time, my side of the family lost our father, our paternal Grandfather, and both of our Grandmothers. Nothing quite prepares you for losing a family member, but losing four loved ones in such a short amount of time was very difficult to comprehend.
We're a Catholic family, and although my siblings and I do not attend services every Sunday, God is deeply rooted in our hearts, so I was surprised to see how angry I was with Him. It took me a long time to make peace with God, and it's only recently that I have even thought about going to mass again.
I'm not sure if it's my children that are drawing me back to the Church, or if it's just because I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. Over the years, I have come to understand that when matters of life or death are involved, it's not up to us who gets to stay or go, so we need to find a way to deal with it. Like my father always used to say, "When your card is up, it's up."
So, when I was asked to review Ruthe Rosen's Never Give Up: How to Find Hope and Purpose in Adversity (Cypress House, Sept 2011), I wasn't sure if I could do it.
Never Give Up is the story of a fourteen-year-old girl, Karla, who was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and only given a year to live. Ruthe Rosen is Karla's mother, and she lovingly tells the story of her daughter's amazing courage, and steadfast optimism, throughout her battle with brain cancer.
When I first received the request, I was horrified. How could anyone write a book about their daughter's suffering? I immediately got upset, and as I sat at my computer, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of my loved ones. But, as I started to think more about Ruth's book, and why she may have written it, I realized that I was meant to read her book.
Why? Because I have been angry at God for years now for taking my father away. His card may have been up, but it was up way too soon, and I cannot deny that I am still bitter about it. But in my heart, I believe that Ruthe's book was a peace offering from God. You see, Ruthe, like me, lost someone incredibly important to her – someone that was crucial to her everyday existence – yet, throughout it all, Ruthe managed to remain steadfast in her faith while giving her daughter every last comfort (and experience) that she could offer.
Ruthe's book is not easy reading. I cried non-stop, but it was cathartic for me. The tears I shed for Ruthe, Karla and their family were also the tears that I was not able to shed while I was grieving for my own losses. But by telling Karla's story, Ruthe reminded me to focus on what is right in front of me instead of always thinking about what could have been, or what will never be.
With Ruthe's honesty, I was able to connect with her in a way that only people who have suffered the loss of a loved can share. I know what it is like to sit in a hospital – dealing with something horrific – and still be able to laugh with the rest of your family. I know what that "First Year of Firsts" feels like – the year following the loss of your loved one is unbearable, but after the first year, it gets a little bit easier. I know what it means to say that "Life will never be the same again," but I also know what it means when someone says, "Yes, but now there will be a new type of normal." Life goes on whether we want it to or not – and Never Give Up shows how Karla's family keeps on living even after her passing.
Sometimes, when I look back to those trying moments in our lives, I am amazed that we were able to survive. However, God gave us friends and family to lean upon, and throughout it all, my family and I were never very far apart. When one of us crumpled to the floor, someone else was there to pick us up and set us firmly upright again; when one of us needed to run and hide, someone else manned the fort; when one of us needed to be held, the open arms were uncountable. We cried a lot, but remarkably, we laughed a lot too.
Ruthe Rosen is just an ordinary mom who has gone on to do extraordinary things. Rather than let Karla's memory consume her in a grief-stricken way, Ruthe, with faith and family by her side, channeled her pain and suffering into something wonderful: The Let It Be Foundation™. This nonprofit organization helps restore a sense of normalcy to families during life-threatening pediatric illnesses. The foundation is Ruthe's way of keeping Karla's memory alive while teaching her boys, Brandon and Cole, how to be better people at the same time.
I respect Ruthe for many reasons, but most importantly, because she acknowledges that she can't let go of Karla just yet – even though she knows she should. It has been almost eight years now since I lost my father, and I am just getting around to letting go.
Life is funny that way; you cannot control what happens in life, but you can control how you react to it. That's an incredibly important lesson to learn from a fourteen-year-old girl…who is no longer a stranger to any of us.
If you would like to read Never Give Up: How to Find Hope and Purpose in Adversity – you're in luck. Ruthe has kindly set aside three copies of her book for our readers to enjoy.
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Disclosure: I have been given a copy of Never Give Up for the purpose of this review.0