The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, Nina Riggs (2017)

“We are breathless, but we love the days. They are promises. They are the only way to walk from one night to the other.”

 

brighthourMy best friend Dinah died of breast cancer in 2009. It amazes me every day that I have been able to live without her and that we will not be rocking-chair old ladies together. I had never been closely involved in someone’s cancer fight before and while the pain of this loss is deep, the humor and wit she was known for is also part of my memories.

After decades of a close friendship Dinah shared easily her thoughts on her prognosis and living for almost 5 years with stage four breast cancer, the 3 ½ rounds of chemo and when she finally called it quits, the hair loss/regrowth and loss again and how she playfully exploited her baldness to get to the front of any line and the best table in restaurants, and finally her belief that Jesus would heal her, even when it was obvious she was going to die.

Through the years after her death, I have often picked up memoirs of cancer survivors or in the case of The Bright Hour, those who died. I am not sure what I want from these books, but I am drawn to how people live, not knowing the outcome, and how like Dinah they put one foot in front of the other and just keep going, keep living and experiencing life as fully as they can.

In The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs is a 37 year-old wife and mother of two young boys when she learns she has breast cancer. At first it is just “one small spot,” but chemo and radiation do not do their job and by the time she tries the last treatment available she is at stage four.

Between treatments she tries to live as normally as possible for her boys. She and her husband John are always honest with the latest treatment outcome. Freddy and Ben learn to live in an atmosphere of uncertainty over their mother’s health.

As if Nina’s fight isn’t consuming enough, her mother has been fighting breast cancer for five years and provides some of the lighter moments in the book. A dedicated book club member, even at death’s door she wants to keep up with the book selection schedule. With poignant moments, the clubbers understand.

Nina’s optimism carries her a long way, the title being a clue. As the great, great, great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, she is trying to live in that bright hour and not “be a prisoner of this sickly body and to become as large as the World.”

This isn’t a depressing book, but because I knew she was going to die there was a bit of dread at each page turn wondering when and how that would occur. Her writing style is contemporary and conversational which adds to this feeling of immediacy, but also gives a measure of comfort as if I was peering into the heart of my own friend. Nina does not gloss over the effects the various treatments and procedures have on her physically and in that regard the book may not appeal to everyone. But this is the reality I experienced with Dinah and no matter how gross or painful, this is the reality of our friends and family.

In the afterword written by John, we learn Nina finished the manuscript for the book in late January 2017. And with the prospects grim, entered hospice in February. She died on the 26th.

Nina leaves us with a good outcome, even though hers was not so good–live life as best as you can, because…well, you just don’t know what’s up ahead. Books like this help us turn our sadness into marveling at the human spirit that just wants to live well, no matter the prognosis.

_____________

My Edition
Title:The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying
Author: Nina Riggs
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Device: Hard cover
Year: 2017
Pages: 320
Full plot summary

Challenges: Library Love, Nonfiction Reading

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7 thoughts on “The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying, Nina Riggs (2017)

  1. Hi! Since you have previously participated in the Louisa May Alcott reading challenge, I wanted to stop by and let you know… the challenge has returned this year! If there are any books you’d like to read/listen to this month that are written by (or written about) Miss Alcott, please consider joining us again! Also, you’ll want to check out the giveaway prize… 🙂

    Excellent review of The Bright Hour… I hadn’t heard of it before.

    Tarissa
    http://inthebookcase.blogspot.com

    Like

  2. The sad thing is that we all have a cancer tale to tell, whether it’s suffering with it oneself or, more often, having someone close be diagnosed with it. From being the disease only talked about in hushed whispers (the big ‘C’ was a common euphemism) it now seems a sad fact of everyday life. My partner had cancer twice, of two unrelated kinds, but against all odds she remains clear sixteen years after the last occurrence. In Britain we still have a national health service to thank, despite recent governments doing their best to denigrate and underfund it before selling it off to their friends in private business.

    But it’s loss that makes it hard for those left behind, and loss that still affects you now. My heart goes out to you, Laurie, especially knowing I could so easily have been in the same position.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am sorry to hear about your friend. Cancer takes such a terrible toll.

    These narratives can be uplifting despite the sadness if they celebrate the human spirit. However, I can understand the sense of dread that you felt as you progressed through the book.

    Liked by 1 person

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