The Power of Life

by Donna Kirk on May 5, 2013

Intimate Strangers

Eight women were seated in Sandy’s living room. She always hosted the book club meetings. The only person I knew was Liz, my friend of more than thirty years.

“I feel like we’re friends, Donna,” said a woman I’d met just ten minutes before, who sat down beside me.

“I loved your book,” said another. “When I’m shopping in Oakville, I wonder if I’ll meet you on the street or in the stores.”

Comments like this were new to me and very welcome.

“Remember, no talking about the book until we’ve had our refreshments and wine,” said Sandy, who referred to herself as the book club boss.

This group had chosen to discuss Finding Matthew, my literary non-fiction narrative. Most clubs review works of fiction and I considered it an honour they had opted to discuss mine. Given the heated discussions and different opinions bandied about at my own club, I hadn’t known what to expect. Each member would take a turn commenting and asking questions. No interrupting was allowed.

I began the discussion by telling the women I wrote Finding Matthew to honour my son and to raise awareness as to the gifts and talents of people with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

The woman to my right, who felt she already knew me, spoke first.

“I was right there with you and your family through the whole book, Donna,” she said. Tears formed in her eyes. “I work as a recovery room nurse in head trauma.”

She’s seen it all, I thought, and reached in my purse for a tissue. Anyone who cries for Matthew makes me cry too.

I was reassured to hear she agreed with the medical details in the book, and had found the story touching and believable as a health care professional. When she discussed Finding Matthew with her colleagues they wanted to borrow it.

“I couldn’t loan my signed copy, I didn’t want to lose track of it,” she said. “So I went to Chapters and bought one to pass around at work.”

To sum up her remarks, she said she didn’t want the book to end. “I always feel as though I’ve lost a good friend when the story is over.” Wonderful words to a writer. If this lady had been the only one to comment, I would have gone home happy.

Two women in the group were cancer survivors. The first, said she read Finding Matthew in bits, between treatments when she felt better, because the story was sad. The second, a single mother, said she felt connected to our family through the complications and trials of our experiences. These two women, strong and calm, were beautiful both inside and out. They each said they admired my honesty. I felt humbled by their praise.

Both my friend Liz and another member, a gynecologist, remarked they didn’t detect any anger in the book. I had to confess my secret. I had felt plenty of anger and frustration in the forty years of Matthew’s life. And, I had expressed it in some of the chapters. But both my agent and my editor advised me to delete those comments. Just tell the story, they said. Let the readers feel the emotion.

One lady wanted to know if I still felt angry about the mistakes that most likely caused Matthew’s brain damage. I replied that I had to learn to move on, to make me feel better and to give Matthew a mother who could help him develop. I underlined that despite everything, Matthew did have a successful life – he had accomplishments to be proud of. Many people loved and admired him. And, most important of all, he had a good opinion of himself.

After the individual comments were finished, a general discussion followed. People remarked how tired I must have been with three little children, one of whom severely handicapped. They liked the way I wove the events of the story. One woman observed that my mother had played a big role when Matthew was growing up, then later in the book, I mentioned her death. They liked how I kept the focus of the story on Matthew.

A lady who hadn’t read the book wanted to buy one. “I can’t wait to read the story now that I’ve heard the discussion.” I just happened to have a few copies in my purse. No self-respecting writer ever misses an opportunity to sell a book.

A few of us disclosed events in our lives that could only be brought out in certain circumstances. We shared experiences and raw feelings that would never be mentioned again outside that room. We listened to each other, understood each other and acknowledged each valuable reality.

Now, I have a different perspective of my book. I wrote it not only to enhance awareness and understanding of people like Matthew, but to communicate the power of a life well lived, despite what could seem like insurmountable barriers.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sherry Isaac May 6, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Every life has a story, Donna, and every story, a purpose. You and Matthew are fulfilling yours.


jennifer mook-sang May 6, 2013 at 5:53 pm

that was heartwarming donna.


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