Memoirs aren’t easy to sell, unless your last name is Kardashian, or your nickname is Snooki. Even beating cancer (which sounds like a hell of a story to me, because who doesn’t like a tense medical drama with an upbeat ending) probably wouldn’t be a good enough hook to hang your memoir on these days, unless you’re The Nanny herself, Fran Drescher, author of Cancer Schmancer. However, buried in the glut of memoirs by celebrities that are full of TMI and low on substance, there are stories to be found, told by real people like you and me, that will resonate as only a tale of true life can. Holding Silvan, a brief life, by Monica Wesolowska, is one of those stories.
As you can tell by the title, this is not a happy book. It is the story of a couple who are told shortly after the birth of their first baby, Silvan, that he was born severely damaged and is unlikely to survive past a year. The outcome of the book is determined early when Monica and her husband decide that Silvan should be allowed to die. The heart of the story is the struggle to defend that decision, while learning how to cherish the time they have with their son.
Ms. Wesolowska’s writing is unsentimental, but the power of the emotions is inescapable. She writes of a hike she takes with her husband while Silvan is still in the hospital. “He is enduring his grief by keeping busy, by consulting outside doctors, dealing with insurance, filling the car with gas while I am left free to feel every ripple of emotion. The postpartum hormones coursing through me amplify my grief, make it come in waves that bowl me over. But I can’t stay like this all day. I can’t sustain this drama. The feeling is passing. The need to be prostrate is gone. There is nothing to do but go on.”
On the surface, Holding Silvan is a book for others who have experienced the loss of an infant. It is comforting to know that you are not alone in the world, that others truly understand your unique pain. But I’m certain that some who share that pain will read this book and rail against the couple for the choice that they made. The public debate over how to manage healthcare for those who cannot speak for themselves has been raging since before Karen Ann Quinlan was removed from life support in 1976. If you are the sort of person who believes in life at any cost, then this book is not for you. If, however, you understand that emotions are not black and white; that we all project our feelings onto others; that quality may trump quantity when it comes to the days of our lives, you should read this book.
The subject of Holding Silvan is an infant, but the message of the book applies to all. Life can be cruel, and tough choices need to be made, but our memories sustain us, and there really is nothing to do but go on.