Rather than bringing release, a long-foreseen death prompts anguished soul-searching in this tender, hopeful memoir-cum-self-help primer.
The author nursed his wife Jeri through a 10-year battle with ovarian cancer that he feels was the most rewarding part of their marriage: life in their Hawaiian home, where Jeri became an avid surfer, was full and even romantic—baldness and colostomy bags included. Orfali’s reminiscences of those years are fond and forthright and packed with information and tips on everything from coping with chemo to choosing a hospice. But because of their extraordinary closeness as soul mates, “totally intertwined and fused” into “an entity called we,” Orfali was unexpectedly traumatized by Jeri’s death; her sudden absence provoked endless crying jags and “grief bursts” that overwhelmed him “like molten lava.” As he looks for a way out of his pain, he takes us on a journey through the psychological literature on death and grieving, visiting writers from C.S. Lewis to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and Dr. Joyce Brothers (and sternly rejecting the “forget and detach” school of “Freudian psychobabble”). Orfali synthesizes what he learns into a workmanlike cure that is inflected by his career as a software designer and involves a “grief meter” and “grief burst buckets.” What he means by that mechanistic terminology is something very simple: a sustained meditation on the ideas and feelings behind his grief. As he explores everything from his anxiety that he didn’t manage Jeri’s treatment optimally to his survivor’s guilt, he gropes his way toward an acceptance of death, a philosophy of existentialism softened by Hawaiian surfer spirituality and a renewed sense of the lasting value of his relationship with his wife. Orfali writes in a straightforward, often bullet-pointed style, but infuses it with intellectual seriousness and emotional depth. The result is both a useful guide to end-of-life issues and a profound reflection on their meaning.
A heartening testament to the ability of love to transcend loss.