I am writing this blog post on the night before I return to work from bereavement leave. My dad was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme in late February. I once heard GBM referred to as the “great white shark” of brain cancer because of its relentless rate of growth and spread, and the lack of effective treatment. My parents moved in with my family right after Dad received the diagnosis; we put their house of 53 years on the market, moved their stuff into storage, and buckled up for the wild ride of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy while maintaining our “normal” work, school, church and home duties. Needless to say, it’s been a lot.
I don’t know if you all experience this, but when I am particularly stressed out, I sometimes find that I cannot read. I just can’t allow myself to enter into a story. I can’t put my life aside to join someone else’s, which is what reading at its best is for me. Instead, my go-to activity when I am particularly stressed is knitting poorly while watching murder mysteries. It works, but it’s not nearly as satisfying as a book.
I had been trying to get into a story for a while, but the months since my dad was diagnosed were filled with false starts and abandoned books. Then I heard one of our local high school librarians recommend The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. I had been wanting to read it for a while and decided to give it a shot. I was a chapter or two in when my dad’s condition started to make a marked decline. After a really rough overnight at home, we decided to call 911 to take Dad to the local emergency room. Due to remaining Covid regulations, only one family member at a time could sit with him in the ER. My mom and I took turns. Dad was unconscious by that point, and the doctor informed us that we were not going to be able to take him back home. We had “hours to days” left.
While I was able to be with Dad, I talked and sang to him, read aloud his favorite passages from the Bible, and called family members so that they could say their goodbyes. When it was my mom’s turn, I sat out in the ER waiting room, which was filled with people who were having really bad, really noisy days. Somehow, I was able to concentrate on The Firekeeper’s Daughter. The book saw me through twelve hours in the ER while we waited for Dad to get a room. It also accompanied me through a solo overnight vigil at his bedside that ended in his death at sunrise. It was a life giving, transporting companion through one of the most difficult days of my life.
I have written a bit about developing a trauma informed library in some of my ALSC blog entries over the past year. I’ve been working through what programs, outreach or collaborations we could create in the public library that would reach our patrons and touch their lives. But I’ve realized through my experience with Dad that we already have the best resource. It’s our books. I don’t know if there is anything as powerful as stories, and we are the shepherds of stories. A good story has the power to transform a life. The story and the reader do the hard work together. It’s our job to know the stories, and to attune ourselves to our patrons so that we can be the people who put the right book in the right hand at the right time. Go change a life today, friends. Recommend a good book.