Painkillers and Gummi Bears by Gail Frare

Painkillers and Gummi Bears

A mother and son's journey through fear to freedom
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A mother’s memoir of her son’s illness and early death.

In this debut memoir, Frare recounts the story of her son Christopher, who survived a heart transplant at the age of 15 and died of cancer at the age of 22. Portions of the narrative are in Christopher’s words, drawn from essays and recordings he made over the course of his illness, and in the introduction, Frare explains her decision to list him as a co-author. As a cardiology-focused nurse, Frare found herself in a difficult position when her son was diagnosed with heart failure. She was aware of the dangers but too involved for a nurse’s traditional detachment: “The physicians expected me to be so clinical, calm, and cool. Do CPR on my own son? Were they kidding me?” Frare often writes with emotion, but an occasional stark sentence also works well, as when she offers a taste of her son’s postoperative medication regimen: “Twenty-one horse pills that smelled like skunk were the main ones, and the rest of the pills counteracted their bad side effects.” Christopher’s health continued to be uneven as he finished high school and started college, though his drug and alcohol use often tested the limits of his family’s sympathy. He got himself under control but soon after was diagnosed with cancer, which was ultimately fatal. Frare heartbreakingly ties Christopher’s story into her own process of grief, recovery, and redemption. Excerpts from Christopher’s journal present the authentic voice of a teenage boy aware that he was fighting the odds and also resentful about the end of his normal childhood: “I went to the hospital, and six weeks later I got the most worthless piece of shit contraption—a pacemaker. It totally ended my football career.” “My parents dread these periods” of his feeling unusually good and energetic, he later wrote, “not because I am feeling better but because this reinforces my existing teenage invincibility, and I listen to nothing my parents tell me.”

A highly readable story of illness, treatment, and its impact on a family.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1502997326
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2015


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