An inspiring and brilliantly observed memoir in the manner of Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air and Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie.
Father, husband, athlete, medical doctor, Jeff Sutherland had built an enviable life for himself and his family by the time he noticed that he was losing strength in his left arm. He visited a specialist and from that appointment, he writes, “deep personal loss for some unknown reason wrapped its tentacles around me and my family.” Diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), he lost his abilities to walk and speak within two years and, confined to a wheelchair, was forced to retire from his life’s calling at age forty-three. Not long after, he was locked in his own inanimate body, unable to eat, drink, or breathe without assistance. His meals were delivered through a feeding tube, and a ventilator controlled his lungs through an opening in his throat. The only parts of his body he was able to move voluntarily were his eyes.
Despite these extreme limitations, Sutherland made peace with his disease and, surrounded by his loving family, found happiness again, only to suffer another soul-shattering loss. His eldest son, Zachary, a lifeguard, drowned along with his girlfriend in a freak kayaking accident in the river behind the family home. “Despite everything I lost through ALS,” he says, Zachary’s death was worse. Yet again, through a long process of suffering and healing, Sutherland was able to accept his loss and find a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in his constricted life.
His story, laboriously written on a computerized device that tracks his eye movements on a visual keyboard, is a testament to both the human will’s ability to overcome unspeakable tragedy, and the power of familial love to heal incomprehensible pain. “When a negative change occurs,” writes Sutherland, “we have to choose how we will face it. We can be paralyzed with fear or we can make the choice to integrate it into our lives, make peace with it, and eventually grow from it. With any change, good or bad, personal growth is the ideal outcome. It is my belief that this our soul’s mission on earth.”
About the Author
Dr. Jeff Sutherland, a former full-spectrum family physician and hospital administrator, is an author and ALS advocate. A husband and the father of three sons, he lives in Terra Cotta, Ontario