Friday, March 28, 2008

Review: Sixtyfive Roses: A Sister's Memoir

Summary: Heather Summerhayes was six when her four-year-old sister Pam was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis and given only months to live. "Sixtyfive roses" was the way Pam pronounced the name of the disease that forever altered the lives of her siblings and parents, who in turn helped alter the community's response to the disease by founding the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. With the help of the CF Foundation, research, and new treatments, the fight to save Pam's life lasted for years, until her death at the age of twenty-six.

This beautifully written memoir offers a compassionate yet unflinching eyewitness account of the hope, pain, and courage of a family in crisis as it falls apart and puts itself together again and again, to emerge stronger and more loving. The heart of the story explores the relationship between the two sisters -- one devastatingly ill, the other healthy but burdened with guilt -- as they journey through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. -- book jacket

When Heather Summerhayes Cariou author of SIXTYFIVE ROSES asked me if I'd like to read her book, I was extremely flattered. Even though I have never had to face a loved one with a life-threatening illness, I still thought I could learn a great deal from a book like this. When I started reading this book last night, I thought it might not be an easy read. But within a few pages, I knew I just had to keep reading about Heather and Pam. This was an amazing story about two very strong women.

Any person who has ever had to deal with the sickness or loss of a loved one would find this book extremely valuable and definitely should read it. While I have never faced anything even close to what the Summerhayes did, I still learned so much about the beauty of the human spirit from their story. I was blown away by how much this family had to deal with, yet their love for each other remained so strong. Despite all of the challenges that they faced, they never gave up -- they just kept on going.

What I especially liked about the book was the author's honesty in telling her story. She freely admitted the difficulties the family had in coping with this horrific disease. She also openly discussed her resentment and anger towards her sister and her parents. I loved seeing how much Ms. Summerhayes Cariou changed by the time she set out to write this book. I was so happy to learn, that even though she misses her sister, she has found happiness and contentment in her life.

While all of the people in the Summerhayes family were special in their own right, Pam was just an incredible person. Even though she only lived for 26 years, the wisdom and insight she acquired in that time were so valuable. Her faith in God and others, despite knowing that she was going to die, are truly an inspiration to me. There were so many wonderful things that Pam said through the pages of this book, but one of my favorites is:

"While we are here we must make the best of what we have and where we are. Soon my purpose will end, and I will leave the world bodily, but whatever I have given to anyone, that will remain."

Ms. Summerhayes Cariou has written a beautiful tribute to the memory of her sister and their friendship. While parts of this book were truly funny, I found myself crying on more than one occasion. This is such a bittersweet story about the strength of a dying woman and the sister who thought she wanted to die with her. I know this book will resonate with me for a very, very long time.

If you are considering reading SIXTYFIVE ROSES for your book club, the author is available for speaker-phone book club appearances and in-person appearances if you live near New York (or occasionally LA.) She also has a monthly contest where book clubs have the chance to win a set of SIXTYFIVE ROSES for all group members. Click here for more information.

"If we take the chance and opportunity of seeking out the beauty in the world about us, every moment of every day can be treasured. I have learned that no matter what misfortunes or joys one may be faced with -- life will surely go on...with love." - Pam Summerhayes

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