Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Life's That Way

In the summer of 2003 things were shaping up perfectly for actor Jim Beaver and his wife Cecily Adams (the daughter of TV legend Don Adams of Get Smart fame). A year earlier he had landed a starring role on what was about to become the critically acclaimed HBO drama Deadwood. He was also in the process of finishing a long-aborning book on the life of TV Superman George Reeves. Cecily had her own fan following from her acting work on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and was simultaneously ensconced as one of TV's most respected casting directors. More important, they were the proud parents of Madeline Rose, a delicious two-year-old they had struggled through horrifically difficult fertility treatments to conceive. And they were building their dream house, just a block from Cecily's studio office, which would allow Cecily to walk home to see her baby at lunch every day. Life, family, home, and career. They had it all. And then their world imploded. In less than two months Jim and Cecily's child was diagnosed as autistic. And Cecily, a nonsmoking health nut, learned she had inoperable Stage IV lung cancer. Jim immediately began writing a nightly email as a way to keep 125 family members and friends up-to-date about her condition. From there his emails spread and soon 4,000 people a day, all around the world, were getting the updates. Initially a cathartic exercise for Jim, the prose turned into an unforgettable journey for his readers.

LIFE'S THAT WAY: A Memoir (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam; April 16, 2009) is Jim Beaver's day-by-day chronicle of the year his life as he knew it was torn asunder. Cecily died four months after being diagnosed. Through that time of treatment and the unimaginable gifts of support and friendship they received from many sources—and through the following eight months in which Jim and his daughter Maddie went on alone learning to live again—the book reveals their experience and provides extraordinary insight and inspiration for surviving the loss of a loved one. Like Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie or Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture, this memoir is about the death of a loved one, but also very much about life. Written straight from the heart with extraordinary humor amidst great sadness, it is a story not just of travail, but also one of love and generosity, of unfathomable human kindness, and of wondrous gifts and invaluable lessons for living."

I’ll admit upfront I was skittish about reading Life’s That Way. I avoid tearjerkers the way Dean Winchester avoids healthy food. However, I’m such a big fan of Jim Beaver’s, and have enjoyed his myspace blog entries and facebook notes, that I really wanted to read his book.

I’m glad I did.

I found it to be a very compelling, emotional, romantic, empowering, humorous and uplifting read. Readers should know the real crux of this story is about family, love and the triumphant nature of the human spirit. Jim’s adoration for Cec and Maddie is tangible on every page. If you’ve read his myspace entries you know he’s an incredible and devoted dad whose loyalties and heart hold deep to family and friends.

I thought him an extraordinary man before, but his book humbled me and left me with lingering lessons.

One of the things I most appreciated, from a writer’s perspective, was his incredible way with words and his raw honesty. As writers we can sometimes have little devils on our shoulders trying to censor us, but he didn’t hold any punches in his entries, even when they were aimed at family and friends. To me that takes great courage, something he repeatedly proves to have a great deal of.

I was also moved by his passionate spirit. He has a tendency to play gruff, loveable characters, but one thing I took away from the real Jim Beaver is he’s the kind of romantic that makes women swoon.

But the greatest thing I took away from Life’s That Way was his ability and grace in finding the positive side of things in the worst of circumstances. Many people can’t do that, but he showed a gift for looking at the bigger picture and finding universal truths in the darkness. One of my favorite things he shared is “Forgiveness is not something you do for someone else; it’s something you do for yourself. To forgive is not to condone, it is to refuse to continue feeling bad about an injury.”

Jim’s strength of character is amazing and his book doesn’t merely offer comfort to readers who’ve suffered similar struggles and loss, it demonstrates that life is what you make of it and we should all live our lives to the fullest.

Blurb & Photo Credit:


Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Terri, I admit, I've been holding off on reading this book for the reasons you were skittish, but you've convinced me. It's going to the top of my TBR pile. :)

Trish Milburn said...

This sounds like a wonderful read, even if I suspect it'll make me cry. It's sad, but I doubt any of us know anyone who hasn't been touched by cancer in some way. And it seems particularly cruel when it hits someone who does everything they can to stay healthy.