Friday, February 3, 2012

"Wish You Were Here" A Pilgrimage to Sicily, and Through Grief

Here is my column that appears in this weekend's Catholic Post.  I invite your feedback here and on Facebook and Twitter.

 “Grief, they say, is not a straight line,” writes Amy Welborn in her beautiful new memoir Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope.  This “wavy line” is truly is the best way to describe her wanderings—literally, to Sicily and back, and figuratively, through a landscape of mourning, loss, and understanding.

Welborn is chiefly known as a Catholic writer of books for young people.  Among many other works, she is author of the “Prove It!” series for teens, and, most recently, Friendship with Jesus, a book about First Holy Communion.  She’s also one of the first and best in the Catholic “blogosphere.” 

A few months after her husband dies suddenly at the age of 50, Welborn decides to take her teenage daughter and two small sons to Sicily and Spain because…well, she doesn’t really know why.   So we find out together as they travel, and the result is this remarkable book.

Wish You Were Here is part travelogue, part Catholic exploration on life after death, and all about the unexpected ways those left behind cope after the death of someone dear.

If you’ve been through a loss, Wish You Were Here will just make sense.  It’s not overwrought or depressing, in fact, it’s funny at times.  It’s just true:  You’re fine, and then you’re not.  You’re overwhelmed with sadness, and then you have hope.  You cling to your faith, but you have doubts and questions and what-ifs.,   It may seem strange that that map of suffering and grief is overlaid onto a map of Sicily, but it works well here.

I wrote down so many quotes and paragraphs as I was reading Wish You Were Here that I could fill my column and blog with them this month, but here are just a few:

*”Maybe here in Sicily, picking my way on worn-down paths around tumbling ancient walls and broken columns, I will catch a clue as to how to live with it all.  And because here the veil between past and present seems as thin as the cooling breeze from the sea, maybe just once in a while, it will whip aside, it will lift, and I’ll see.”

*“What does it mean if I edge up on joy while doing something in a place I wouldn’t be if he were still alive?”

*“No matter how they present themselves, no matter how confident they seem, everyone is walking around with a hole, a resentment, a question, a nagging sense that something is not right, the suspicion that if this or that aspect of their life had been different, they would be happier, they would be at peace, they would be complete. Be kind, someone once said, because everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

It might seem like reading a about someone else’s grief could be a “downer,” but Wish You Were Here  is not that kind of book.  It will have deep resonance for anyone undergoing loss, and will be  informative and uplifting for anyone interesting in a Catholic vision of death from a deeply personal angle.


  1. I have read several of Amy Welborn's books and was a regular reader of her blog when her husband passed away. Her writing at that time was probably my first glimpse into someone's grief as they were living it. I am glad she has come out with this book and will be adding it to my (ever-growing) reading list!

  2. Thanks so much for the kind review, Nancy. I had hoped it would not come off as a "downer." Glad to see that perhaps it didn't.

  3. Marie, if you like Amy's blog, you will love "Wish You Were Here." Amy, the book is not at all a downer; I'm glad I made that clear in my review! I had a sentence in at one point, "At times, it's laugh-out-loud funny," but it sounded really strange and I had to take that out. You can only understand that once you read the book (once you've been there), and I hope many people do.

  4. I'm glad to read your review of Amy Welborn's book; I have had it on pre-order and am eager to receive it this month.