During Lent, when I’m reading non-fiction, I like picking up a lot of memoirs, whether or not there’s anything religious about them. Most of Me does not tackle religious questions but it deals with the big issues that religion exists to answer: suffering, pain, death and how to take pleasure in life and relationships with the knowledge that degeneration and death are inevitable.
Robin Levy was a visual artist, writer and broadcaster busy with a career, marriage and a teenage daughter when several years of growing depression led to an unexpected diagnosis: she had Parkinson’s Disease. Only a few months after that diagnosis, while Levy was still adapting to life with a degenerative disease, she was hit with another blow: she also had breast cancer, and ended up needing a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. Dealing with two such severe health problems at once tested every resource Levy had, yet she emerged from the cancer ordeal and faced her Parkinson’s diagnosis with courage and humour — and a lot of support from family and a great team of friends.
Family is important here: Levy deals with a daughter who is going through the angst of the early teen years (oh how well I know it!!!) while her mother is not well enough to parent in the way she’d like to. Levy’s father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s not long before she was, and her mother also had cancer (I was surprised that after the initial diagnosis, so little attention was given to her mother’s cancer: it seemed quite serious, but was scarcely mentioned again). Friends also feature prominently: anyone going through a serious health crisis should be so lucky as to have friends like Robyn Levy’s.
Many years ago now, I read Anne Lamott’s story of how she wrote her novel Hard Laughter after asking a librarian (when Lamott’s father was diagnosed with a brain tumour) “Where are the funny books about cancer?” and getting an odd look in return. Obviously if she were asking that question today, the librarian would be able to point her to Most of Me, a very funny — and moving — book about cancer … and Parkinson’s … and being human, with all the frailty and fallibility that entails.