A Grace Given by Kent Gilges
I thank my friend Laurie for giving me this book. Laurie is a friend that everyone should be so lucky to have. One day in fourth, there was a family across the aisle of Holy Angels Catholic Church with a daughter my age and the promise of a friend. Laurie has been a part of every milestone along my path in one way or another since we met…the wonderful times and the painful ones, including the death of my mother.
As my mother lay dying, Laurie, a music therapist, did more than just visit and comfort me and my family. When we were desperate for something to hold onto in those dark days of the hospital’s hospice room, she created a CD of music from that church we met in decades ago. She recorded her playing the music and singing words that illustrated my family’s faith when there was very little else holding us up. We know that my mother, a strong woman who wept for hymns was carried for a bit by the gift that Laurie gave her and us. The music helped us to cry as well when we needed release. Through the entire event of mom’s death I struggled to explain that being by her side and caring for her was a terrible but beautiful experience. I was honored to be able to be there and felt God’s presence like never before in my life. Laurie’s music was an essential of the beauty I tried to describe.
A year after my mother left us to be with God; Laurie gave me the book, A Grace Given by Kent Gilges. She had personal experience with the author’s daughter, Elie. She told me when she gave it to me that she knew I was ready for the book. I let the book sit on the pile of books that “I’m getting to” for almost a year before starting it……but I’m so glad I did. A Grace Given is not a book that you chose to read….so much as a story that choses to enter and work in you.
In simplest terms, A Grace Given, journals and chronicles the life of Kent’s daughter Elie as she lives with and dies from a combination of brain tumor and major stroke. The terrible beauty of Elie’s illness and death change Kent as a human father and spiritual being. Many of his words stop me in the way that only poetry can. The author was able to put into words the way I felt when I was with my mother in her dying but couldn't articulate. What’s so beautiful is that the story is not sad….there are sad and even devestating moments for sure but the underlying message in the book is hope, hope, HOPE.
In many ways, A Grace Given is a devotional. The author, raised without religion, marries a deeply faithful Catholic wife and spends time throughout their daughter’s illness grappling with the big questions….every question one that I have grappled with myself: Is there a God? Is Jesus God? Why does God allow suffering? Is Catholicism an answer? Is it God that allows suffering--why? Will God exist even if I’m so angry with Him that I reject him? Will He take me back? Gilges includes Bible passages and quotes from famous thinkers to make his case: “There is a blessing sent from God in every burden of sorrow. There is hope in that, even in a dying child” (book jacket).
I sincerely hope that some of my friends will make time for A Grace Given and let me know what they take from reading it. I know that today, my first day after finishing this book, I will be spending less time complaining about my children and more time enjoying the wonder of their healthy selves…and thanking God for every moment of joy He’s given me as mother to the family I belong to.
Gilges, K. A Grace Given. Canandaigua: Cider Press Publishing, 2008. Print.