Book Review: The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg (2005)
One of the saddest experiences that many of our Boomer colleagues have had to face is the loss of a spouse. While the subject matter is sad, the author captures, in her beautifully written words, the raw emotion of this experience. Berg’s books always speak to me in a good way. YES, they are touchy feely! But these are the books I prefer to read before going to sleep. They don’t beat me over the head with violence or get my heart pounding with mystery or intrigue. She tells a good story, often about a deep emotional struggle in a very human way. In this book I was drawn in by the level of love and affection the main character Bette had for her departed husband John, as she tries to make sense of his untimely death from cancer. As a writer, I love Berg’s way with words and her ability to describe how life feels. Like this passage about grief:
Other times I went numb, as though vultures had landed inside and picked me clean. At those times, I did not quite taste or see or hear or touch or feel. And at those times, I thought cautiously, Is that it, then? Am I through crying? Am I healing already? And then would come another tidal wave of pain, nearly nauseating in its force, that had me pounding and pounding on the kitchen table. I knew it was a common story, the loss of a husband, widowhood, but it was of no use to me to know how many had experienced this before me…
The Year of Pleasures also resonated with me as I try to capture the Boomer experience, because while it is the story of loss, it is also a story of second acts, second chances, hope and renewal at 50+….not final endings or giving up, even when one door closes. Another aspect of the story that I found meaningful was the saving grace that comes from reaching out and reconnecting with friends when your spouse is no longer in the picture, not only from death but also divorce. As the story unfolds Bette finds her way and eventually begins to live again despite the loss and sadness in words that I found compelling and comforting:
I noticed…a specific and breathtaking absence. At the moment, nothing hurt. What I felt was only hope, that internal sunrise. The image of John’s face came into my head, and I felt only my great luck at having had him for as long as I did. I’d learned enough about grieving to know that other ways of feeling would come back soon enough. But it seemed to me that this was the way we all lived; full to the brim with gratitude and joy one day, wrecked on the rocks the next. Finding the balance between the two was the art and the salvation.
The Year of Pleasures is the kind of story that we here at Boomer Connections love: finding our way after experiencing the many curve balls life has thrown at us, and managing to live through it and find a new way forward.