Tag Archives: Death

Book Buzz: With Love From the Inside

Words fail me, except for OMG, WTF and whatever other net-centric acronyms exist to express shock.

Book Buzz: With Love From the Inside

If I could insert a shocked face emoticon, I would, flummoxed as I am by With Love From the Inside, the page-turning debut novel written by Angela Pisel.

With Love From the Inside

This novel, about the relationship between a mother on death row and her estranged daughter, packs a punch.

Grace Bradshaw was convicted of killing her infant son William. The charge was murder by Munchausen by proxy. With traces of poison found in his formula bottles, it appeared to be an open and shut case. Despite Grace’s protests of innocence, the evidence was irrefutable and she was sentenced to death.

It was a horrific case, to say the least. Understandably, her daughter Sophie, 12 years old at the time of the trial, was traumatized. The death of her brother had been tragic enough, but now her mother, from whom she had only known love, was apparently a monster.

Sophie continued to live with her father but after he died she moved away and tried to erase her family history forever. When asked, she said that her mother died of cancer years ago.

She never wanted to see her mother again.

When the story begins, Sophie is now in her late twenties and married. Her husband and his family know nothing about her background. She has managed to keep her secrets so far, but she is tormented by thoughts of her mother in prison.

With Love From the Inside is recounted from two points of view. As Sophie tells her story from the outside, Grace tells hers from her prison cell. With all appeals exhausted, there is seemingly nothing that can save her. She keeps a journal which allows her to “talk” to Sophie because she despairs of ever seeing her again. She wants to make sure that once she is gone Sophie will have this journal and will finally know how she felt about her daughter, the baby who died, and her experiences in jail.

In researching this book, author Pisel interviewed many women on death row, and her sensitivity to their plight illuminates the story. The descriptions of life in jail are stark and real: prison guards both sympathetic and cruel, rigidity of rules, tensions between inmates, the constant dehumanization.

Grace clings to hope for a reconciliation with her daughter as the clock ticks closer to the date of her execution. She begs her defender to find Sophie. And eventually he does.

But will Sophie want to see her mother?

Sophie struggles with two conflicting thoughts. Is her mother the personification of evil, as she has believed all this time? Or was something overlooked, something that could exonerate her mother and end this nightmare? Memories from childhood, repressed for so long, now reemerge, reminding her of the loving mother and happy family she once had.

This is an emotional and intense read, and the pace quickens in the last few chapters. It is also an indictment of our flawed justice system, in which too many innocent people have fallen through the cracks.

Will that happen to Grace? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of With Love From the Inside. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of With Love From the Inside from Putnam for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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The Person, Not the Illness

I was at the job for about two months and then I got fired.

Two years out of college, with a lack of direction and a resume begging for sustenance, I had eagerly accepted a position in the claims department of a large insurance company in Philadelphia.

Hardly the job of my dreams.

But the regular paycheck seduced me. And benefits. It could be the start of a successful corporate career, I reasoned. I didn’t mind standing on the bottom rung of the ladder if there would be an opportunity to climb.

The job involved evaluating insurance claims from policy holders suffering from serious, often terminal illnesses, and assigning benefits to them or their decedents.

These were routine applications: fill in the blanks and sign below. But I found myself searching between the lines for the human behind the diagnostic code. I could piece together the timeline, from the first symptoms to multiple doctor visits, lab tests, hospital visits. I wanted to know more. Who took them to the doctor visits? Did they have a supportive spouse?

I pictured them lying in bed, trying to fill out these forms and having to stop when fatigue took over. It often took minutes of scrutiny to decipher the spidery scrawl written by a shaky hand. My eyes would fill as I paged through the medical history, learning about the person and not just the illness. I wondered about the impact on family and friends. Did the neighbors know? Was anyone bringing meals?

Maybe it was a mistake to read the names and not just stick to the application numbers, which would have made the process less emotional.

But it was what it was.

There was a formula for assigning benefits, of course. You had to key in the appropriate tags based on the insured’s enrollment plan, initial it, and then send the application to the disbursement department for payment.

I was one of a group of about 15 new employees who, like me, were recent college graduates. We went through a week of training, and that was kind of fun, as we got to know each other and joke around. When training was over, we were escorted to our own three-sided cubicles in a massive room filled with cubicles, and given a stack of applications to work on.

So, sidelined by the stories I wrote in my head, my productivity rate was down. Way down. I was nowhere near as efficient as my co-workers. Also, I just couldn’t get the keying-in part. I wanted to give money to every one of these suffering people. Even though the code said deny, I wanted to give.

As my incorrect applications were returned to me one by one, my supervisor would patiently pull up a chair to sit with me and explain where I made errors. I would nod, embarrassed that I was so incompetent, but I still questioned the ruling. Why can’t this person get more money, I asked.

And I kept making mistakes.

One morning my supervisor came over to my cubicle and knelt down. She whispered that it wasn’t working out, they had given me time to learn the job and I hadn’t gotten it. She was sorry to see me go, but I should pack up my things and leave the building.

And so it went.

I thought of this because a friend of mine, someone I knew in high school, died this week.

We were never best friends, just friends. And we had lost touch over the  years, but — the oft heard refrain these days  — we reconnected on Facebook several years ago.

She had a daughter working in New York, just as I did.  So proud she was of her daughter, an aspiring writer. She asked if I would be willing to talk to her, give her advice. I was flattered to be asked, and was pleased to do it.  Afterwards, I emailed my friend to tell her what a lovely and talented daughter she had. I think that made her happy.

A month ago my friend’s family put out a plea on social media. My friend was diagnosed with lung cancer and needed money to pay for her treatment. I don’t know what her situation was, but whatever she had wouldn’t cover it.

Her family and friends responded. But it wasn’t enough, or maybe there was no amount of money that would have saved her. I wondered if someone was reading through her application, but surely it is done electronically now.

But just in case anyone wants to know? She was pretty with a sparkling smile, friendly and fun, loved by many. And that’s how I will remember her.

The Person, Not the Illness

In memory of Dixie Troutman Elbert

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I See Dead People

What a macabre subject to grace a blog that normally leans toward the lighthearted. But where else than here would I feel unencumbered by convention or political correctness to talk about a delicate subject that’s on my mind?

So here goes. And I truly mean no disrespect.

I see dead people.

It doesn’t happen every day, just now and then. If you’re on social media, surely this has happened to you, too.

Let me explain.

I’ve been an active Facebook user since early 2007. Now, seven years later, who isn’t on Facebook?  For better or worse, this is how most of us stay connected these days.

And reading Facebook updates is part of my morning routine while I drink my first cup of coffee and watch Good Morning America at low volume.

I’m pretty efficient. I can usually catch up with the latest before the 7:30 a.m. commercial break.

I quickly scroll through the “Which Character from The Simpsons Are You?” (never watched it) and the “Like if Your Sister is Awesome” (I have no sisters) and “Copy and Paste to See Who Really Cares About You” (I don’t care) to get to the important stuff. I wander over to my Books is Wonderful  page to check on the activity there.

In the right column is a box with a header entitled “Invite Friends.” At the top of the list is a particular friend.

I haven’t seen much of this friend as of late. That is because this particular friend, actually this late particular friend, has, um, departed.

Not just logged out of Facebook. Logged out, period.

I never did get to invite her to “like” my page. And if I invited her now, I doubt she would accept.

Herein lies one of the curiosities of our new technology. There’s another universe now, thanks to social media, somewhere between Here on Earth and The Sweet Hereafter. We’re not really gone when we die. Our profile picture lives on in the cloud, popping up willy nilly as if nothing has changed.

I See Dead People

Here’s another example.

Facebook told me that John ‘likes” Amazon Prime. This gave me pause, because I doubt that John qualifies for free shipping at his new address.

And one more.

Under an ad for Birdseye Vegetables I see that Bob “likes” it. Whether this was true or just lip service from Bob I’ll never know, but I bet Bob is way happier with manna from heaven than frozen lima beans.

I See Dead People

Some may find it creepy, but I kind of enjoy bumping into these departed friends as they go about liking Ikea and American Express and waiting for me to invite them to ‘like” my page. I can pretend that they’re still around. Sort of.

How do you feel?

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