My Glory Was I Had Such Friends - Amy Silverstein
My Review - 5 Stars
It is rare to read a book and feel grateful to have read it. Not in the "that was a great book!" sense but in a "this book is changing me for the better" way.
I'm going to admit right off the bat I had high hopes for this memoir. A celebration of friendship and an insider's look at illness and dying? SOLD. I was pretty sure I'd like it but truly, it exceeded all expectations and that is all because of the author.
Amy Silverstein had a heart transplant at age 25 in 1988. At the time, her doctors predicted she might live another 10 years at best. Instead 26 years passed, during which time Amy married her husband Scott (who proposed while she was in the hospital awaiting the transplant!), finished her law degree, adopted a son, and amassed a wonderful collection of friends.
People think once you get a heart transplant, life goes back to normal but Amy shows this is not the case. While she's lived a full life, she's also had to be vigilant about her health, dealing with numerous hospitalizations and close calls along the way. There's so much I hadn't realized about post-transplant life. When the book begins, she's learned her transplanted heart is failing and she'll need to undergo another transplant. This is not an easy decision for her and she does not hold back on taking readers through her mindset about whether to take on the odds.
After hearing about her medical history, I have no idea what decision I would have made in her shoes. In the end, she decides to go for it and her friends immediately rally around her. Since Amy and Scott will have to relocate to LA for several months, nine of her friends decide they will take turns flying out and keeping Amy company while she waits for a heart.
Talk about greater love!
I don't know if I've ever read a memoir that details the dynamics of a group of friends. Often friendship memoirs focus on one friend or if they mention more, those friends are not connected to one another. Amy's friends come from different parts of her life- childhood to law school to where she lives- and most have met before or are even close friends themselves. I loved seeing how they related to one another and how their bond grew as they supported Amy.
We learn about each friend- how Amy knew them, what made their friendship unique, their personality and some of their history. We see how they support Amy and when they get it wrong. It is a beautiful and loving portrayal of friendship. It made me think about how I support my friends and what I will do when my friends go through chronic or terminal illness. (I say "when" because it is bound to happen. I've walked alongside enough family members to know that.)
This is an honest and unflinching portrayal of friendship and end of life issues. Her friends fight some of her medical decisions and do not always listen to her exhaustion in the face of her illness. They don't want her to give up, yes, but sometimes they forget to respect what she's gone through. Getting to listen in on the resulting conversations was powerful. Amy does not always come across as the best and admits it but we also get to see her grow and learn through the process of how sick she gets and as she confronts her mortality. At the same time, there is a lot of light in this book. I laughed out loud a couple of times and I cannot emphasize enough how much I loved Amy's husband and friends. The sacrifices they made (that they do not view as sacrifices) inspired me.
Amy is a gifted writer and I'm so glad not only that she received a new heart in time but that she was able to write this account for us. It was incredibly moving and life-affirming. I will be encouraging my friends to read it and I'll be reflecting on its message for some time to come.
The title- a line from Yeats- is apt. May we all be so blessed.
In this moving memoir about the power of friendship and the resilience of the human spirit, Amy Silverstein tells the story of the extraordinary group of women who supported her as she waited on the precipice for a life-saving heart transplant.
Nearly twenty-six years after receiving her first heart transplant, Amy Silverstein’s donor heart plummeted into failure. If she wanted to live, she had to take on the grueling quest for a new heart—immediately.
A shot at survival meant uprooting her life and moving across the country to California. When her friends heard of her plans, there was only one reaction: “I’m there.” Nine remarkable women—Joy, Jill, Leja, Jody, Lauren, Robin, Valerie, Ann, and Jane—put demanding jobs and pressing family obligations on hold to fly across the country and be by Amy’s side. Creating a calendar spreadsheet, the women—some of them strangers to one another—passed the baton of friendship, one to the next, and headed straight and strong into the battle to help save Amy’s life.
Empowered by the kind of empathy that can only grow with age, these women, each knowing Amy from different stages of her life, banded together to provide her with something that medicine alone could not. Sleeping on a cot beside her bed, they rubbed her back and feet when the pain was unbearable, adorned her room with death-distracting decorations, and engaged in their “best talks ever.” They saw the true measure of their friend’s strength, and they each responded in kind.
My Glory Was I Had Such Friends is a tribute to these women and the intense hours they spent together—hours of heightened emotion and self-awareness, where everything was laid bare. Candid and heartrending, this once-in-a-lifetime story of connection and empathy is a powerful reminder of the ultimate importance of “showing up” for those we love.
Amy Silverstein is the author of Sick Girl, which won a “Books for a Better Life Award” and was a finalist for the Border’s Original Voices Award. She earned her Juris Doctor at New York University School of Law, has served on the Board of the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), and is an active speaker and writer on women’s health issues and patient advocacy. She lives in New York.
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Disclosure: I received an ARC from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.