Olivia’s Heart Song, the second in my Bethany Beach trilogy, deals with a serious health issue. At age thirty, Dan Newhouse just had surgery to fix a heart defect which had gone undetected until he’d reached adulthood. Now he’s looking at his life through new eyes and making changes, something an older friend and client of his understands, as the friend tells Dan about his own brush with a life-changing experience in his youth:
“When Grace and I were just starting out, before the boys came along, I was in an accident. Piece of machinery fell on me. Wrong place, wrong time. Long story short is I was out of work for a half year… That kind of thing…being too close to the Grim Reaper when you think you have quite a few years to make his acquaintance, let alone stare him in the face…well, the day I woke up from the knockout was as if I’d been reborn.”
Anyone who’s faced serious illness or accident can probably relate to these sentiments. I remember once hearing a man express thanks for being afflicted with cancer! How could that be? Well, maybe he was being a bit too glib, but his idea, that serious illness can shift your view of life in a good way, is anything but shallow. It forces you to evaluate what’s truly important, what can be easily discarded, what you have to let go and what you need to hang on to.
We often lead our lives in a state of true blissful ignorance. We ignore our mortality. Yes, all of us know our days eventually come to an end, but we can go days, months, years without thoughts of that end intruding on our daily lives. Not so if you face a serious health challenge. Then, those thoughts pop into your mind more often. They shine a bright spotlight on all the clutter in your life, and make you think about cleaning it all up.
Like many, I’ve faced the Big C in my own life and had to go through the three usual therapies: surgery, chemo, radiation. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say thanks for the affliction, cancer did force me to refresh my view of a lot of things.
One piece of clutter I cleaned up in my life around that time — throwing out old journals. As I looked them over, I realized they were filled with whining and complaining (mostly about the publishing industry as I struggled to get published!). But there was too much joy in my life for those journals to be my written legacy. So…out they went.
When I was in treatment, time seemed to stop for long periods as I dealt with the challenges of each day, of crawling out of the fatigue and relentless schedule of treatment to the light of normalcy. But normalcy is hard to find in the wake of such experiences. You do wonder about aches and pains, if they signify something serious, in those months after treatment ends. I read an article about the post-treatment phase that noted it’s common for cancer patients to be particularly fearful immediately after they’re discharged from care. After having been tended to almost daily for months on end, they’re suddenly free — free of health care visits but also free of the care itself! That can be scary.
In Olivia’s Heart Song, Dan Newhouse is in that stage, right after surgery, still emotionally fragile, still overly conscious of his body’s every ache, his heart’s every beat. When he meets a former army nurse recovering from her own heartbreaking troubles, he wonders if he can feel whole enough to love someone…and if she could view him as more than a sick man who needs tending. The story follows them both on a bumpy path to recovery from physical and emotional wounds as they sort out what they want to do with the rest of their lives.
I hope it resonates with people who’ve faced serious illness and lets them know they’re not alone in their fears and hopes, their struggles to feel normal again.
This book, like the first in this series, is set along the Delaware coastline, an area my family and I enjoy a great deal, a quiet region filled with nature preserves, serene bays, miles of sandy beaches, and great restaurants and shops.
Olivia’s Heart Song is now available at Amazon.