STAY. PRESENT. by Elizabeth Jenkins  Gell


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Gell’s debut memoir recounts her experiences during her infant granddaughter’s brain cancer treatments.

When the author got the call from her daughter Ros, that Claire, the author’s 5-month-old granddaughter, had been diagnosed with brain cancer, she felt at a loss at how to support them. In this book, the author, a marriage and family psychotherapist, blends a step-by-step account of Claire’s medical treatments and its effects on the family with “some of the many things I learned about myself and life in the process.” While in the pediatric intensive care unit with Claire, Ros asked, “What do I do Mom?,” to which Gell answered, “You feel what you’re feeling, and you make the best decisions that you can for her sake.” At first, the author castigated herself, thinking this answer to be another way of saying, “I have no idea.” Upon reflection, however, she began to see it as helpful, because “The real challenge is to find a way to stay present as much as we can. This is how we avoid drowning in the situation.” Raised as a Presbyterian by parents whose answer to any crisis was to “soldier on,” Gell found her own ways to handle life’s crises, turning to qi gong, acupuncture, and reiki alternative-healing approaches when faced with health challenges. Young Claire underwent chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, and throughout the ordeal, the author shows how she confronted her own visceral emotional responses (“How could this be happening to us?”) with pragmatic problem-solving techniques. Overall, Gell provides a heart-wrenching account that not only draws on her personal, emotional experience, but also her professional work as a therapist. For example, she offers readers a 10-point list of ways to “stay present” when faced with a long-term medical crisis. For the most part, the first-person narrative is engaging and its urgency drives the story forward. However, as the book goes on, readers may find themselves skimming over some of the flashbacks that deal with childhood fears and psychological issues.  

An often engaging memoir that will be a valuable contribution to any self-help library.

Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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