Verdict: HEAVEN’S CHILD is a memoir of hope and serenity, of acceptance that “death is a part of life,” that “learning to live and love is a lifelong process and that our greatest gift is today.” The message is inspirational: all we really have in life to hold on to is the bond of love with our family. Death may interrupt the journey, but it can never stop us from completing it.
Caroline Flohr’s searing memoir of loss of her first-born twin teenage daughter Sarah in a car accident in August 2004 is a difficult book to review. Nothing can even describe the emotional trauma of a parent who has to bear – and live through – the agony of a child’s death, a vibrant sixteen-year old, to a freak accident. Yet, Flohr has written a sensitive memoir that makes catharsis possible in the quest to understand her loss without turning death into a tear jerker.
The memoir traverses a devastating terrain, beginning with an early morning knock on her front door and a firefighter’s chilling words, “There’s been an accident, and Sarah has been killed,” to the epilogue (2011) where she recognizes Sarah is “all around me, sometimes in the kindness of a friend, or even strangers. I’ve come to know her presence, the touch of her fingertips, her smell and her warmth.”
Days after the tragedy, Flohr is pierced by guilt when she comes across Sarah’s school essay, “The Power of One Personal Narrative,” where her daughter recounts her anger on her parent’s divorce, lashes out at her “evil” stepmother, and her unwillingness to accept her stepfather. The narrative then picks up the shards of memory, at once poignant and happy, as she re-lives her pregnancy, the joy at the birth of the “mirror-image twins,” the slow dissolution of her marriage, and life with her supportive extended family.
Yet, Sarah’s short life and memories do not exist in a vacuum. Flohr contextualizes her pain, once she gets past the immediate trauma of loss, within the larger framework of the passing days, weeks and the first anniversary of Sarah’s death. Framed within these large arcs of time, she recounts, during the trial, the remorse of the teenager who was driving, as well as shock when the second teenage girl–she had taken her parents’ SUV without permission–speaks callously in court, “I think I’ve been punished enough. It can’t get any worse than this.”
From that point on until the fifth anniversary of her daughter’s death, Flohr movingly charts the course to recovery and control over her family’s life with her husband and her surviving four children. The sad memories still intrude, but she gradually turns to the joys of life. On the fifth anniversary, following a visit to Sarah’s grave, Flohr instinctively knows the family has to let “Sarah free” and have her continue with her “journey.” She writes, “We accept her death…We have found her gifts.” Back home, she re-reads Sarah’s autobiographical essay’s final words to bring about the much-needed closure: “And now it is time for my story to end, because we have finally reached the beginning.”
HEAVEN’S CHILD is a memoir of hope and serenity, of acceptance that “death is a part of life,” that “learning to live and love is a lifelong process and that our greatest gift is today.” The message is inspirational: all we really have in life to hold on to is the bond of love with our family. Death may interrupt the journey, but it can never stop us from completing it.
Reviewed by Dave Dasgupta for IndieReader