Everyone reading this book – indeed, every human being – needs to know that when such a thing happens, we are not alone. Victor Lee Austin, Losing Susan, Brazos Press 2016.
If you are a family care giver, or if you know one, Victor’s book (and it really turns out to be his late wife Susan’s book just as much) can be at once a splash of cold water that wakes you up and a strong arm around you for comfort.
He tells the story of his wife’s long terminal illness and his efforts to care for her with great love and humility in a pure sense of that word, by simply being objective and not forcing any judgments. Some questions are left hanging, and this book gets across how normal and necessary that is. No tidy answers to the big questions, but great insight into family care giving and a gift of compassionate companionship for those who are caregivers.
Just as many combat veterans need others who’ve been in battle to process what’s happened in their lives, care givers will find in Victor and Losing Susan a level of understanding and acceptance that helps process uncomfortable emotions and experiences.
Reading this is a reminder that care giving thrusts orderly souls like Victor’s into chaos, free spirits into stifling routines, thoughtful people into impulsive action, rational people into irrational situations, spontaneous people into detailed planning, extroverts into isolation and introverts into a land of disintegrating boundaries. And what’s worse is that this all involves the loss of the person most a part of us and most able to buffer us in life’s hardships.
As I read this book, I was struck by how much I would like to see couples read it while preparing for marriage. God forbid that they should have to walk the same course as Victor and Susan, but they will walk some part of it. This book, by telling a family story rather than framing a lecture, brings out the deep reality of
In the Name of God, I take you to be my wife (to be my husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow. (Book of Common Prayer, 1979)
That kind of promise will take us into situations for which we are radically unprepared and, in all honesty, incompetent. As Victor describes so well,
I never had any confidence about how much I should push or encourage her and how much I should step back and just let her be.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who have to care for others whom they love, and we always recognize this point of commonality.
This common lack is why care giving can’t be pulled off all on one’s own. We need companions and, if we can recognize it, we need God’s grace. Losing Susan is a voice for both.