I don’t know about the rest of you, but when my child gets sick, our household switches gears completely, as we cancel outings, stock up on supplies, and prepare ourselves for some sleepless nights. And when the illness is a bit more serious, we seem to move into another dimension – filled with steaming cups of tea, menthol-scented humidifiers, and anxious trips to the doctor – and only vaguely related to the rest of the world.
So how would I react if I found out my child was gravely ill and may not survive? Not very well, I’m afraid.
And yet that was just the dilemma faced by Emily Cook, who chronicles her struggles after her daughter’s diagnosis with an aggressive form of epilepsy in the new book Weak and Loved.
And yet it is much more than a book about illness. At its core, it is, as the subtitle reads, a mother-daughter love story. Weak and Loved revolves around Emily’s relationship with her daughter Aggie, who began having epileptic seizures just after her fourth birthday. The disease developed rapidly, and for a time Emily and her husband were not sure whether their daughter would survive.
[Before I continue, I must insert a spoiler alert: Little Aggie (who will celebrate her eighth birthday this fall) is now healthy and thriving, though she will not be officially cleared for another seven years. I mention this here because if I hadn’t jumped onto Emily’s blog for an update early on, I’m not sure I could have finished reading the book!]
Emily is a wonderful writer, beautifully interweaving grief and joy, just as they so often present themselves in our lives. At times Emily documents the heartbreak of watching her daughter – always the “party starter” of the family – suddenly become a sick, tired child who often preferred to watch her siblings play rather than join in herself. And yet there are so many moments of humor as well, as Aggie experiences periods of respite from her illness. There is one particularly funny conversation among the kids about whether or not you can lick your shoes in heaven – you’ll have to read it for yourself!
It is moments like these that showcase the love that knits this family together, even as illness and grief stretches it to its very limits. Emily’s other children exhibit a remarkable concern – rather than jealousy – towards their sister despite the extra attention she is receiving and often alert Emily to Aggie’s seizures. (This is, in large part, due to the extraordinary efforts made by Emily and her husband to keep household life as normal as possible). And though the older children are aware that something is terribly wrong, the joy and energy they continue to exhibit help keep Emily from falling into depression, even as their antics often test her already tried patience and energy.
The support and love shown by relatives and friends is also inspiring, as they help with babysitting, meals, and encouraging words. Emily has done us all a real service by including, at the end of the book, a list of suggestions about how to support someone who is going through a similar situation. (For additional suggestions you can read this list).
What underlies the entire narrative and breathes life into Emily’s book is faith. So often it is only Emily’s Christian faith that keeps her from careening into a spiral of grief and despair. It gives her and her family some solid ground to walk on as well as a loving community to care for them.
Lest any of you worry that a religiously inspired book will be preachy or self-righteous, let me assure you that this one is anything but. It is an often brutally honest account of one woman’s struggles with faith, as she fights to hold onto belief at the same time as she wonders how God could allow this to happen to her child.
And yet this is the brilliance of Emily’s book (and of her blog and life’s work) – that we do not have to be strong to earn God’s love and mercy. As Emily writes (based on advice given to her soon after Aggie’s diagnosis), we come to God as we are, and He accepts us and helps us through it. Weak and loved indeed.
This post has been shared at My Life’s a Treasure’s Our Favorite Things.