In a wrenching memoir that exacts a huge emotional toll on its readers, Heather Summerhayes Cariou, author of SIXTYFIVE ROSES, has effectively conveyed the turbulence and sadness that a family endures as it deals with the caring for a child who was born with Cystic Fibrosis.
Summerhayes Cariou’s memoir recounts the short life of her sister Pam whose touching last words prior to her passing away was “Write… our story. Tell…what we…lived through…together.” As Summerhayes Cariou emphasizes in various sections of the book,“Pam said tell our story. Mother said tell the truth. The story I tell lies somewhere between the truth and memory. Pam survives through the telling. So do I.”
In the USA alone, one in three thousand, nine hundred children are born with CF-a genetic hereditary disease affecting the exocrine glands of the lungs, liver, pancreas, and intestines, causing progressive disability due to multisystem failure. Unfortunately, there is no cure for CF, and most who are born with it die young: many in their 20s and 30s from lung failure. Hopefully, with continuous introduction of many new treatments, the expectancy of a person with CF will increase to as high as 40 or 50.
In 1958, when Summerhayes Cariou was six, her four-year old sister Pam was diagnosed with CF. You can well-imagine the stunned helplessness and devastation when her parents were informed that there was no cure or treatment for CF. When asked how long could she expect to live, the reply was that most children are diagnosed in infancy, usually at autopsy and thus it is difficult to predicate with certainty how long they will live. Perhaps, it would be six weeks or maybe six months and unfortunately, there was very little that could be done for Pam. However, this was one gutsy young woman who was a tenacious fighter constantly duelling with death and who described her disease as sixty- five roses because she couldn’t pronounce Cystic Fibrosis. Pam tried to protect everyone and she realized that if she gave up, she would let everyone down who had put so much into her. As mentioned, she lived for the family, compelled to stay alive because she knew that is what they wanted her to do.
She certainly wasn’t a whiner and she never complained. In fact, her father even described her as “stoic.”Summerhayes Cariou eloquently describes her sister’s doggedness when she states: “When she was in pain, she pressed her lips tight and her face turned whiter than white. Her eyes became cold steel. You could feel the barometric pressure drop in the room, but she wouldn’t let go a peep.”
As Summerhayes Cariou sweeps us along in her richly textured and emotionally involved narrative, she threads her memoir with themes of coping, rebellion, anger, hope, feelings, sacrifice, flaws, guilt, death, jealousy, tempers, survival, love and moods. Moreover, as one excellently rendered scene follows another readers vicariously suffer the tragedy of a long-term catastrophic illness that the family had to consistently live with as they watched a sister and daughter suffer and peter away.
One of Summerhayes Cariou’s principal talents is the manner in which she persuasively writes about highly poignant issues without resorting to corniness or insincerity. It is this gift that makes the memoir so probing and challenging yet astonishing beautiful.In addition, Summerhayes Cariou is an author of extraordinary sensitivity and grace as SIXTYFIVE ROSES brims with thoughtful observations such as when early on we are informed: “With the advent of my sister’s diagnosis, it was as if my family had crossed the waters to a foreign land. We became immigrants in our lives, leaving behind our identities and relationships as we had known them, losing the future we might have otherwise have imagined for ourselves.”
Although this memoir may be an emotionally devastating chronicle of grief and death as one is likely to encounter-one that childhood pain and family suffering become as real as a stab in the heart, it nonetheless teaches us important lessons when we ponder over Summerhayes Cariou statement: “it was not fear of death, Pam was afraid of unused life. Pam set an example of such courage for me that I would never fail to be inspired by it. She had taught me to acknowledge fear, and then move past it.” Perhaps, by the end, you’ll look at your own life in a little different light.
Heather Summerhayes Cariou was born and raised in Brantford, Ontario. Her father was the Founding President of the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and both her parents received the Order of Canada in recognition of their wonderful work in inaugurating the CCFF.Heather was a professional actor and dancer and she is now married to the award-winning actor Len Cariou. The couple live along the New Jersey shore.
The above review was contributed by: The Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com, Norm Goldman, B.A. LL.L, Retired Title Attorney: Norm is also a travel writer and together with his artist wife, Lily, the couple meld Norm's words with Lily's art. To check out their travel site click on Sketchandtravel.comClick here to view Norm’s Reviews & Interviews.
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