Our reviewer this month is Board Member Ruth Du Bois
Ruth’s background in palliative care stems from over 42 years of work as an RN and nurse educator in a variety of areas including geriatrics, surgery, medicine, mental health, and community home care.
The Company We Keep by Frances Itani (2020)
In The Company We Keep, Ottawa author Frances Itani depicts a group of six grieving strangers who encounter each other at a local café where they meet to have conversation, which inevitably embraces their experiences of loss. Each character has a different story and set of circumstances, and initially, some of them feel some hesitation in meeting with strangers to share their innermost feelings and thoughts. But it isn’t long before their conversation points them in different directions, and helps them to imagine new beginnings in spite of their real and anticipated losses.
Itani’s gentle humour and empathy are reflected in this disparate group who find safety, friendship, and support in one another. Hazzely, still struggling three years following her husband’s death takes her friend’s advice to start the grief support group, and is pleasantly surprised when she is joined by Gwen, a recently widowed retiree, 40-year old Chiyo who was caregiver for her difficult mother through her final days, Addie who is anticipating with pain the imminent death of a dear friend, and Tom, who misses his deceased wife and comes to the group hoping for home-baked cake. They are subsequently joined by Allam, a Syrian refugee with his own painful story. Over a period of time, the six become friends, offering one another acceptance and support to grieve authentically for their losses, and helping each to find new meaning and joy amid the grief. Together they learn to move forward in their lives where love is foregrounded and occasionally overshadowed by the waves of grief that can wash over one long after the loss of a cherished person. They are safe to express the ugliness that can be present in any relationship and to discover the reality that grief can be about “both/and,” not “either/or.” By the conclusion of the novel, the reader has encountered an “insightful examination of lives left ragged by the surprising complexity of grief” (Linden MacIntrye, 2020), and closes the pages warmed and comforted.
I would highly recommend this fiction for its tender story of people seeking solace and peace amid the chaos that grief can create in lives. For some, it may just be a lovely story, but for others who are suffering the pain of loss, it may provide a reflection of what it means to seek renewal and redirection.