Living with Dying: Finding Meaning in Chronic Illness
George Lea Harper Jr
117 pages
1992, Wm B Eerdmans Publishing Co

George Harper wrote this book roughly six years after he began living with cancer, specifically small cell lymphoma.  An ordained United Methodist minister and a Professor of Religion at Pembroke State University in North Carolina he weaves together stories from his life with cancer, from watching death come closer, from what he can see of the impact of this experience on his family and community with reflections on Scripture and Christian faith.

Written as a series of meditations or reflections on specific aspects of Harper’s life with illness, Living with Dying is far from a memoir or retelling of his story and, I think, more valuable for that.  Harper manages to universalize the specifics of faith journey with serious illness in a way that does not diminish his own story or invite competition between his experience and anyone else’s.

Harper does not ask people to join him in his sickbed or daily life.  Rather, he creates a guided tour of life with serious chronic illness and describes the pain, agony, isolation, levity, and joy of life as lived with chronic illness.  The best part is how he manages to invite others to this experience without denying or belittling any of the pain, agony, isolation, levity, joy.

I found it reassuring to join someone else’s journey along these theological and faith-based questions that I have asked and pondered at great length.  For myself, I might wish for more–more of the depth of Harper’s experience, more theological wrestling.  And Harper begins this task in his later chapters.  For the audience Harper intends, that of the ill, their caregivers, loved ones, and pastors, I think he has struck the exact right tone.  To attempt what I would personally like would be to possibly overwhelm and definitely limit the amount of benefit.  Harper has crafted a book that will be a comfort to the ill as we hear echoes of our stories, an asset to pastors who are invited into such lives, and, I hope, a bridge between caregivers and those in their care.  It is a book I heartily recommend.

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