Book Review: Wish You Were Here

Amy Welborn‘s new memoir, Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope, details the aftermath of her husband Michael‘s sudden death in February of 2009 — specifically, the trip she took with her daughter and two young sons to Sicily a few months after. Part travel diary, part spiritual memoir, part reflection on grief, Wish You Were Here ¬†resonated deeply with me and my own experiences following the death of my father shortly before my senior year of college.

Welborn writes with honesty about her grief. She details her anger, her fear, and her sadness. But these details don’t stand as mere self-pity; she makes numerous parallels between her spiritual journey through grief and the physical journey she undertakes with her family — between the life-giving destruction of Mt. Edna and the ¬†illusory ¬†nature of death; watching her son build sandcastles on the Italian beach and her attempt to begin building a new life; between regrets of things unsaid and undone and seeking to “live in the now” an ocean away.

And yet, at it’s core, Wish You Were Here is a hopeful and faith-filled book. If there is a theological center — the theme Welborn comes to several times — it is her husband’s admonition to live for God Alone:

I would do that whiny thing and I would ask him, Do I make you happy?, and he would sigh and say that he would be in bad shape indeed if his happiness depended on my existence. Not because he wasn’t happy now, but because he needed to be “happy” — at peace — whether I was around or not, no matter if he liked his job or not, or whatever was going on or whoever was around him. He’d make his case as he always did that our happiness shouldn’t depend on anything except God. I should be able to be happy, he’d say, even you died tomorrow. He’d take his eyes off the television and look at me.

And so should you.

The book is, in many ways, the chronicle of her attempts to do just that in the immediate aftermath of Michael’s death. Her openness about this struggle is refreshing in the face of a culture that seeks to shield us from death and to deny the reality that we all must one day die.

Wish You Were Here is a delightful, funny, heart-breaking book. I heartily recommend it.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer program.

Original photo by DrPantzo/flickrCC