I have just finished Julie Yip-Williams’ The Unwinding of the Miracle — A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After (Random House, 2019).
What a powerful read. The book is Yip-Williams’ account of being born into poverty and nearly blind in Viet Nam just after the Viet Nam war. Her family somehow made it to the United States and Yip-Williams made it all the way to being a big-time lawyer in New York City, where she fell in love, married and gave birth to 2 daughters. In her late 30s, she contracted colon cancer. In March 2018, she died at age 42, leaving her husband and 2 daughters.The account is the emotionally raw account her thoughts and emotions as she faces her own death. I never have read anything quite like it. Yip-Williams is in touch with her emotions like few people I have known. The book is a gripping memoir, to say the least.
As I read Yip-Williams’ book, I kept remembering 3 other books I have read that similarly grabbed my emotions and shook them every which way but loose.
** The first book I thought of is Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. The book is Kalanithi’s account of contracting lung cancer just as he was finishing his neurosurgery residency at Stanford and preparing to take a neurosurgery position. .
Kalanithi, like Yip-Williams, spent the last year of his life writing his memoir. Armed with literature degrees from Stanford and Oxford in England, before heading to Yale Medical School and Stanford for his residency, Kalanithi’s brilliant writing is poetic, thoughtful and laced with literary insights and quotations. Sadly, Kalanithi died at 38. The book was so mesmerizing I read it cover to cover on a single Saturday afternoon. (Judging by the nearly 5,000 5-star reviews on Amazon, I was not the only one utter captivated by the book.)
** The next book the Yip-Williams memoir made me remember of is Sue Klebold’s A Mother’s Reckoning — Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy.
This 2016 book is the account of Sue Klebold reflecting on the Columbine school shooting in Denver, Colorado in 1999 that killed students and teachers alike. Dylan Klebold, her son, was one of the 2 shooters on that fateful day. Dylan Klebold, and the other shooter, Eric Harris, ended their own lives that day. Klebold let her ideas ruminate for 15 years before finally deciding to write her story. It is the most powerful reflection of a mother’s love for her son I have ever read. She is honest, transparent, and raw. The book just took my breath away many times.
** Finally, Yip-Williams’ memoir made me think of a powerful book on grief by Jerry Sittser called A Grace disguised — How the Soul Grows Through Loss. Sittser’s book is the best book on grief I have ever read.
Sittser’s book is about the day Sittser lost his wife, one of his daughters and his mother in an automobile accident. A deeply thoughtful man with a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago, Sittser (now a history professor at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington) writes about his grief, combining ideas about fate, loss, randomness, why bad things happen to good people and how he feels God views these kind of things. Like Yip-Williams, Kalanithi and Klebold, Sittser is transparent to the core and incredibly self-aware.
Reading Yip-Williams’ The Unwinding of the Miracle will cause the most casual reader to think long and hard about the deep issues of life and death. It also caused me to ponder the deep mysteries of my faith — the virgin birth, the baptism of Jesus, the transfiguration, the Eucharist, the crucifixion and, of course, the resurrection.
As the title of this post says, “Oh the mysteries of life.”