(nb: I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley)
My mother once asked, “Who counsels the counselor? Who ministers to the minister, or nurses the nurse?”
“Just Keep Breathing” deals with these questions. Author Joan Scott Curtis found herself playing these roles–and countless more–trying to hold her family together.
Her resulting memoir, “Just Keep Breathing,” is one of the most simultaneously heartrending and heartwarming books you will ever read.
Joan Scott Curtis found out one day that her husband had AIDS. This was back in the mid-90’s, when AIDS was usually a death sentence.
It was for him, too.
“Just Keep Breathing” tells the story of her husband, Dennis, and his rapid decline from a disease so stigmatized that they only dared tell a few friends it was AIDS. Dennis Curtis always enjoyed life. All too soon, he suffered seemingly constant sickness, hospital stays, and medicines he couldn’t keep down. Most of all, he suffered knowing he was leaving behind five kids and a wife, all of whom loved and depended upon him.
However, the main focus is not on Dennis’ illness and deterioration.
This painfully honest memoir relates what Joan Scott Curtis endured to keep her family going. Of course, she was heartbroken watching her husband suffer. But even as she nursed the dying man she loved, real life continued apace. She had to bring in money. Five kids needed to eat every day. They needed rides to soccer practice and help with their homework, just like lots of normal children. On top of childhood’s usual cadences, these kids knew their father was rapidly dying, and their mother had to help them cope with that, too.
Mrs. Curtis is a woman of faith, and some days that was probably the only thing that kept her going–faith and friends. What makes her story even more compelling is that when she grew stronger as a person, it wasn’t because she decided she’d grieved long enough, and maybe she’d like to try being stronger. She had no such luxury. Her husband died without life insurance, and the only way her family would have money to survive is if she went and earned it.
The fight to juggle devastating grief and real-world necessity makes “Just Keep Breathing” an amazingly powerful book.
This is obviously a survivor’s tale, and surviving wasn’t easy. There was no “Rocky” style montage, where Joan Scott Curtis suddenly becomes Wonder Woman. She took her first awkward steps because she had to. Gradually, she grew more confident, and by the story’s end, she was running. Her unfailing courage in describing her struggles makes her triumphs sound all the sweeter.
“Just Keep Breathing” will move you from tears of sadness to tears of joy, and it is one of the most absorbing and memorable books in recent memory.
Oh, and when I referred to her above as “Mrs. Curtis”? That’s one of her victories: it’s now “Dr. Curtis.”