When your baby is ill, the world seems to stop. Sitting one that hospital couch, as he lay sleeping in the hospital crib, I stared out the hospital window at other hospital parents in the hospital yard, eating their meal because we were not supposed to eat in the Pediatric ICU rooms. Hospitalizations continued for us, on and off throughout the year. After the immediate crisis, I found my mind beginning to wander, to stretch, and I reached for a book.
Below at the books that were my companions and friends in our time of crisis. I give more than just book titles here, but types of books, because what resonates with a female Catholic writer in California with a background in psychology, might not resonate with everyone.
1. A Model in Suffering in Family Life
Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus (1864-1885)
By Zelie Martin
Why? She suffered for her children in their births, deaths, discovered abuse and lastly, that she should leave them prematurely when she learned she was dying of breast cancer. Sometimes you just need a woman who understands because she lived it.
What it did for me… I felt accompanied. I held onto the model of her reaction to her suffering. “Life is short and full of misery, we’ll see them again Heaven.”
2. A Model of Suffering in the Spiritual Life
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta
By Mother Teresa
Why? Spiritual answers or encouragement to wait and hope that one day God would fill what he had emptied. Books about mothers may not reach the depths of reflection that come when written by radical saints. Persons in religious life often have more time for reflection as they have fewer worldly cares. This can help us hunker down to what matters most.
What it did for me… it gave me hope that the dark night would one day end. “There would come a time when God would fill what he had emptied.”
Alternative Titles: High power saint biographies like Teresa’s Life, The Story of a Soul,
The Little Prince
Why? We learn through stories. Good stories have good quotes. Good quotes come in handy when the going gets rough. The Little Prince keeps it real by being present to the pain, opening the reader up to wisdom. “But if you tame me, then we shall need each other.”
What it did for me… the book is comforted, connected me to my past, to my imagination and taught me lessons about the present. It was an image in therapy. Peter became my little fox, because I tamed him, I belong to him.
Alternative Titles: Harry Potter; The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; The Lord of the Rings
It’s Okay to Start with You
By Julia Hogan
The Mindful Catholic: Finding God One Moment at a Time
By Dr. Gregory Bottaro
Why? The first to help maintain balance when you are trying to cope with the imbalance of hospital life and the trial of this child who was once inside you suffering on that hospital bed.
The second is to remind you how to think again amid the dings and beeps and endless hum of hospital equipment.
What it did for me… I discovered these two after the fact but recall vividly during the fact trying to implement their recommendations. From the first: walking, eating well and getting out in nature. From the second: finding space to think, attending to the present moment, listening to what I am feeling and thinking.
A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live
by Emily P. Freeman.
Why? To remind you that you are more than this moment and that even as these moments continue in the helplessness of hospital life, you have something to give, both to your child and those you encounter along the way.
What it did for me… This work inspiring the parts of my soul that could have died in crisis: the creative part, the artist, the one who seeks beauty.
Alternative Titles: Introduction to a Devout Life
5. Distraction and Daydreaming
Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms
By Erin Floret
Why? It is a mental vacation from your surroundings. If you choose nature for your distraction, it has positive psychological benefits. As does immersion in beauty.
What it did for me… I did not need to plan my garden beside my son’s hospital crib, but it helped remind me that a life waits for us ahead. The beauty of the photographs fills me in the moments when I looked at them, the text engaged my brain in planning and problem solving, the aftermath was I dug in, literally, when we returned home and found a therapeutic exercise be it in weeding, planting and mowing the plants down with an electric hedge trimmer.
Alternative Titles: Miss Mustard Seed Look Book; Sage Living;
Included in this and still Essential, Literature
Kristin Lavarnsdatter (high end)
By Sigrid Undset
and/or Cannery Row + Sweet Thursdays (low end)
By John Steinbeck
Why? Quality literature (make it stand the test of time) has complex character with whom we can engage, feel for, and love without effort. This is helpful when we are pouring ourselves out in real life, when empathy has run low, when the world looks dark.
What it did for me… I stopped binging on television shows with require passive engagement and began using my brain again at the end of of a mind-numbing hospital day of movies and internet scrolling. When at home, I stopped self-medicating with alcohol and learned how to actually reset my brain instead of numbing it.
Alternative Titles: Father Brown Stories, books by Jane Austen (high) or Evelyn Waugh (low)
And books can geek out on
(for me they have to do with writing)
The Memoir Project
By Marion Roach Smith
Mystery and Manners
By Flannery O’Connor
Why? To remind you that you are more than this moment, that as much as it consumes you, you have an identity other than “mom.” You may not be able to engage in your favorite hobbies of woodworking or upholstery or mountain climbing, but you can read about them and imagine yourself at them, which does actually contribute as a form of practice.
What it did for me… just that.