Holding Space: On Loving, Dying, and Letting Go by Amy Wright Glenn
If you’re going to read nonfiction, do it with purpose. Holding Space drew my attention for a personal and pressing reason. My father is fighting cancer. He will never stop fighting it, such is the diagnosis. This one will never leave. The best it can do is what it’s been doing – holding still, keeping to itself, being “unremarkable”.
We’ve come to love doctors saying he’s “unremarkable”. We ought to have a cake with that written on it every time this result comes back from his full-body scans.
It’s been nearly three years since the first diagnosis. While we’re endlessly grateful for this time and the foreseeable future with him around, the family’s had to live with a shadow not present before. It sits with us during holiday meals, participates in planning milestone events, and adds a permanent “what if?” to our perception of each new month.
The title of this book felt familiar. It felt true and timely.
Holding Space reads like the author’s flowing meditation. There are areas of pain, unflinching and raw, and there are areas of healing, supported by philosophers, doctors, and hard-earned experience.
I began this book with the impression (from early reviewers) that it was a firm instruction manual, a self-help book prescribed for those looking to improve their emotional fortitude.
Be aware, this is very much a memoir. Instructional, but still a memoir.
The author is highly self-centered – out of necessity. The way she shares her story requires an honesty that cannot exist alongside objectivity.
In her professional capacity, as doula and hospital chaplain, she is present while setting aside her personal wounds, biases, and shadows. In her role as author and instructor, she shares both sides, providing an example for readers who hope to benefit from the book. She can be herself while holding sacred space for all parts of herself and of those she encounters.
She’s a powerful example, and unapologetically flawed. That’s part of being human. Accepting our own flaws and integrating them is one of the lessons she shares.
Feelings about death and how people handle powerful, stressful emotions are tied tightly with religious/spiritual belief systems. The first few chapters deal almost exclusively with the author’s upbringing with the LDS church, her departure from her family’s faith, and her journey toward her current spiritual practice.
This nearly turned me off the book, as it wasn’t at all what I’d expected when I picked it up, but I’m very glad I continued through.
I feel like I, my family, and those in a situation similar to mine with my dad, are an excellent audience for this book.
Traumatic, fierce, and frightening spaces in life often come without warning. They come to our friends and family just as fast as they can come to us. This book can help readers cultivate active compassion. If you’ve ever wondered what to say when loss strikes, when pain is coming whether you’re ready or not, when an inexplicable tragedy strikes – this book can help if you let it.
Holding Space will be released for purchase November 14, 2017.