To an outsider, Pam Cope's life looked pretty darn perfect until her 15 year old son collapsed and died unexpectedly. This devastating blow sent Pam into a downward spiral that she couldn't pull out of and which made a mockery of her previous life. Her husband held their family together, waiting for the day that Pam decided to face life again. And that day did eventually come, but her priorities had shifted. She knew that she needed to honor Jantsen's memory and to make a difference in the world. This awakening gelled on a trip to Vietnam that she, husband Randy, and daughter Crista took to visit an orphanage started by a friend and to try and escape some of the suffocating grief they felt at home. Not only did the Copes come home determined to adopt the little boy they met in Vietnam who was an immediate part of their hearts, but they had found a purpose for some of the money collected in Jantsen's name after his death: to care for and make a difference in the lives of children who had few others to care for or about them. This wasn't the end of the grief at losing Jantsen or a cure-all for their family but it became a guiding principle that helped them get over the hurdles still in their path (Randy's chance to grieve properly, disappointments over the dispersal of some of the funds, the challenges of starting a non-profit, etc.). Their story is still a work in process. Jantsen's absence will always be a gaping hole but the creation of their foundation Touch a Life is a testament to the great love they bore their son and continue to bear for children of the world.
Each chapter after Jantsen's death starts with the recounting of a short letter to Jantsen from the journal Pam continues to keep years after his death. Cope and Molloy have juxtaposed the grief of losing a child with the admirable and inspiring story of one family who has taken that sorrow and channeled it into something beautiful and full of grace. This is not an easy book to read, dealing as it does with the loss of a child and the horrible conditions, including slavery in which other children continue to live even today. But it is ultimately a hopeful book. If such a sad event can lead to even the smallest spark of hope, it will not be dismissed as simply another tragedy to avoid in conversation. It's hard to critique the writing when the topic is so very personal (I wept copiously as I read) but there were a few bits in the book that made me roll my eyes or wish the narrative line would speed up. These bits were not overwhelming though and so didn't overpower my general feeling about the book which was that this was a moving book that deserves a wide audience. Inspiring and heart breaking, I hope the publicity from the book makes it possible for more children to be saved. Jantsen's life might have been a gift to the Cope family but his family's gift will be an enduring one to the wider world.