Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A treasure of a book

Here's a thoughtful, appreciative review of Fields of Gold published this week in the June 2014 online magazine for the New Zealand Transactional Analysis Association.

Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life. Charles M. Schulz

Once in a while, if you are lucky, you cross paths with a book that is a treasure; one that you know you will keep – to dip into time and again – because it moves you or expresses something for you, of life, which has been difficult to put into words of your own. For me, Fields of Gold is such a book.

It is not possible to generalize the experience of what it means to be a sister or to have a sister, let alone what is means to be facing a terminal illness, because the experiences are so profoundly personal and so varied. This book, however, gently entwines the individual and combined experiences of sisters Annie McGregor and Pam Morrison through the last year of Annie’s life using a journal – ‘a shared container’ – as a means of holding something precious to them both about what it means for one sister to face letting go of life and the other sister to face letting go of her as a loved, life-long friend and companion.

You know full well, as I do, the value of a sister’s affections: there is nothing like it in this world. Charlotte Bronte

It is tempting to use clichés when we speak of death and dying.  So often we are at a loss as to what to say to express ourselves, restricted by our sense of inadequacy and fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Sometimes, however, when it is too hard to find the right words for ourselves around grief, we recognize them elsewhere, the effect being a release of emotions held in a place of vulnerability, thus permission-giving and healing; a ‘yes, I know about that’ kind-of-experience. This book models permission to live life fully to the very end in such a way as to give expression to an array of emotions and experiences from joy, exuberance and hilarity to tenderness, bewilderment, and sorrow, which add a richness to the tapestry of threads that hold Annie and Pam together through the daunting prospect of the most final of separations.

You mess with my sister, you’re messing with me! Loretta Livingstone  

While Fields of Gold is written from the personal perspectives of the writers, the writing style is inclusive of the reader through its honesty and recognition that all life experiences, from the moment of our birth to our death, impact on us as relational beings and affect how we feel about ourselves and others. One of the lovely aspects of this book is that it candidly models that it is not only ok to be real to self and to other, but that by being real we grow so much more fully into ourselves and stand with one another with a genuine experience of authenticity and vulnerability that refines and enhances shared moments of genuine recognition and consequently, intimacy.

If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone? Jodi Picoult 

Pam and Annie stand together through the progression of Annie’s cancer with an honesty between them that is heart-warming and real, enhanced by a shared love of music, all things creative, a joy that comes from being with those who love them best and a generosity that is inclusive, right to the end, making room for others to be a part of the journey armed with whatever offerings they might bring be they practical, spiritual, emotional or otherwise. It is a gift to write with such candor, one to the other, and reflects the underlying strength of their sister-to-sister relationship.

My sister and I are so close that we finish each other’s sentences and often wonder whose memories belong to whom. Shannon Celebi

I imagine that Fields of Gold will appeal to a wide range of readers. Having worked in a hospice for two years myself, I know the benefit of books as a resource when people lose their way in the complexities of grief, again because they can be permission-giving, putting words to experiences when words can be lost. This book is also a lovely reflection of the relationship between sisters and a wonderful recognition of the emotional and psychological strength that can lie between two women who have known one another throughout a shared lifetime.

I would like more sisters, that the taking out of one might not leave such a stillness. Emily Dickinson

Pam expresses a hope at the end of the book “that others in relationship will be encouraged, when spoken words are not enough, to find a beautiful book, pick up a pencil, and take turns to write.” I have encouraged our youngest daughter, whose partner recently underwent major transplant surgery, to do just that. She was immediately engaged by the idea and has asked to read the book.

I am sure she will not be disappointed.

  Sue McMenamin

A fanciful stalk from a field of gold and the possible reappearance of Ratty.


Melissa Green said...

I'm so glad, Pam and Pen. Congratulations and much love to you both.

Penelope said...

Thank you, Melissa. The book has been a gift to its readers. Yours has, too. xx