Thursday, April 12, 2012

Review: When All That's Left of Me Is Love by Linda Campanella

A terminal cancer diagnosis. A beloved mother. Just one more year. How does anyone face such a thing? With grief certainly but in Linda Campanella and her family's case, they also faced it with overwhelming love and the desire to help her mother continue living to the fullest for the time she had left. This memoir of loss is really a celebration of Nancy Sachsse's life, her place in her family's hearts, and the resilience she faced during her last year.

When 73 year old Nancy Sachsse was told that she had terminal cancer and that her care was going to be mostly palliative, she didn't rage against the fates but with her grieving family at her side, set out to be present in everything and every way she could for the time she had left. Daughter Linda writes of her last year with the mother both to cope with her loss but also to provide others with a different way to look at such a diagnosis. Determined to help her mother spend the time living rather than dying, Campanella tells of the decisions they made both in actual practice and emotionally. Her mother was given a calendar to help her continue to plan outings that would give her the sense of having a future. Impromptu happy hours on the deck became standard and tangible small ways to celebrate each day. They didn't talk about death and dying but about life and living. And the whole family made it a practice to share with each other and specifically with Nan the love that they all had/have for each other.

Told through her recollections of the time and reinforced by the inclusion of e-mails from Campanella and her mother, this is a sad but positive offering. It is very emotional and very, very personal. Everyone who walks the path of losing a loved one, especially when that loved one declines slowly, walks it differently and so this can't be prescriptive but it might help others view the coming end differently.

The book jumps forward and backwards in time around the themes of Loving, Living, Believing, and Letting Go. There is, of course, no doubt at the outset of the memoir that Campanella loses her mother. But the chapters jump from early on after the diagnosis to the time immediately following her death and back again which can be a bit disconcerting to the reader. The inclusion of her mother's own e-mails to Campanella and to her grandsons helps to bring Sachsse's distinct voice into the narrative. The other e-mails detail Campanella's research and her hope and her ultimate decisions about what would be best for her mother. There are hints of disagreements between family members but those have mostly been suppressed and so the memoir remains ultimately uplifting. While there is some sense of the nitty gritty day to day living here, much of the reality of a person dying of cancer has been glossed over. It is impressive that they all found a way to be so positive and focused on living in the midst of this long leaving and the memoir is much more about the emotional toll of such a diagnosis and death and the ways in which the family strove to take the weight of that from Nan's shoulders than it is about the physical. If all that's left of Nancy Sachsse is love, her daughter has certainly channeled that love into her account of losing her beloved mother.

For more information about Linda Campanella and the book visit her website or like her page on Facebook. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.


  1. This sounds like a difficult read. My coworker is going through this with her mother right now and it makes me so sad for her.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Thank you, Kristen, for reading and reviewing my book. (You write very well, by the way!) The book is indeed a sad story born of death, but ultimately it is not about death; it is about life… and love; you clearly discerned this, and I appreciate your highlighting it. I wanted so much for the book to be about living – joyful living even in the face of painful loss – and about love that does not die even when someone we want to live forever leaves us too soon. It may be a “difficult read” for some who are facing loss, as the commenter above opined, but on the other hand it might be very helpful and hopeful, as other readers have attested. For example, one reader wrote this to me last fall: “I bought the book for myself and then to give to my niece, Jennifer, since my sister/her mom was fighting ovarian cancer and was close to the end of her battle. I can't tell you how much your book helped us live in the moment and so many of your quotes brought us peace and some brought 'aha' moments. Thank you so much for writing that book; it was a wonderful companion to Jennifer and me. My sister passed away Sept. 18th.” Someone else wrote, “I just finished your book and have to let you know how much I loved reading it. I wish I had read it before my mother's 5-year ordeal. I truly believe the loving, caring way you chose to help your mother, and father, live her life after her diagnosis is an inspiration for everyone. I know this book is going be a great source of comfort for a lot of people. I was very pleasantly surprised that as I read along, more and more special memories of my final years with Mom came to mind. Instead of feeling lost you helped me feel even more connected. Your book has helped remind me how much my mother would have wanted me to live my life to the fullest, not in sadness. Her spirit will always be with me.”

    While my story is personal, I believe the themes (and emotions) it touches on are universal. However, I appreciate that we all are unique human begins and all have different relationships with our mothers, different ways of coping with fear of loss, different ways of grieving. Whether one chooses to read the book or not, I hope there is comfort in the knowledge that others have traveled the path through loss and grief before, and that they have found it possible to love, live, and laugh even without the person whose absence they had feared would leave them broken and rob life of much of its meaning.

    Linda Campanella

  4. Just to clarify if you are wondering: The comment from me that Kristen removed was a duplicate of the one above; I'm technically challenged and inadvertently submitted my comment twice.

    Would love to read comments from others.

  5. This is such a wonderful tribute to a woman who was so clearly beloved by her daughter. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it for the tour.


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

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