Book about grief’s shadows casts light on dying

Perhaps I read memoirs so I can learn how to navigate similar waters.

Or how not to.

Walking Through the ShadowsA memoir tells a personal story of chaos or success. No matter the plot or characters, there’s a lesson to be learned, and in author Karen Todd Scarpulla’s Walking Through the Shadows: The Year After, I learned how not to die and how not to grieve.

Scarpulla writes about the year after the death of her ex-husband and how all who knew him cope with his absence. She, amazingly, moved back in with Vince while he battled cancer so her teenage children could get to know him before he died. She writes of this year before Vince’s death in the compelling first book in the series, Walking Toward the Light: A Journey in Forgiveness and Death. 

Though not marketed as a memoir, both books are written in first person and reveal deeply personal insights. Like her first book, Walking Through the Shadows is written in present tense, which I found unsettling, but the approach certainly lends a sense of immediacy to the story.

Walking Through the Shadows reminded me a little bit of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. The ghost of Vince pervades the story.

Vince is a bit of a jerk, and the way he stumbles toward death causes heartache for those who mourn him, especially his daughter who wishes he would have left her a written message before he died. I can’t imagine the depth of sorrow in his mother, who like any mother shouldn’t have to cope with the death of her child, but she seems to give up on life rather than find any meaning in the loss.

Scarpulla handles these perspectives deftly and also conveys her own strange grief about the death of the man she divorced and then cared for in his final months. Her father also died during the year documented in the book (which can be easily read in a day), and Scarpulla shares practical insights on talking about dying, care giving, funeral planning and more; this would be a helpful book for care givers who are looking for ways honor, support and remember a dying person.

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