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Crossing the River

Seven Stories That Saved My Life, A Memoir

by Carol Smith

Crossing the River by Carol Smith X
Crossing the River by Carol Smith
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  • Amber H. (Asheville, NC)
    Beautiful Memoir
    I absolutely loved this memoir! As Carol Smith navigates the grief of her young son's death, she reflects on the stories of people throughout her life. These stories help her to see a way to balance holding onto her grief while navigating towards happiness again. I appreciate how much consideration she puts into the individuals in each story and the lessons she learns from each of them. This book is certainly heavy and can be difficult to read, but a journey into these lives is a beautiful one.
  • Peggy K. (San Marcos, CA)
    Intense,heart breaking loss comes in many forms and the loss of a child may be one of the worst. Finding a way to accept and move on is what this book explores. It is a sad story but also one that the author explores by telling those of others dealing with grief. Beautifully written and one that book clubs can use to discuss deeply. Understanding how the mind deals with death or living with diseases, life altering injuries and more perhaps helps us all live a better life.
  • Laurie W. (Sunnyvale, CA)
    Sharing stories ease suffering
    This book is at the same time personal and universal. Carol Smith smoothly intertwines narration of the tragedy of her own life – the death of her young son – with stories about tragedies in other people's lives. Being a medical reporter puts her in a unique position to find people who are facing challenging circumstances and become immersed in their lives over a period of weeks or months.

    I found the book readable – it kept me interested from chapter to chapter. Her own story and those of her interviewees are tightly woven together. It was heartening to watch as she grappled with her own grief, drawing solace and courage as she spent time with others who wrestled with different, but equally devastating, situations. For me, the main takeaway was that suffering painful circumstances is part of being human and that a path toward healing is formed by being present with other's pain, as well as with ones own. Smith grew more open, with herself and others, acknowledging the joys and pain her son had brought into her life. As she did so, she was able to move forward in her own life. And I hope that reading her story will help others to do the same.
  • Frances Ilnicky-Van Ameyden
    Grace and Grief
    Having a beloved person die immerses us in painful sadness that takes an indeterminate amount of time to process. Carol Smith has written Crossing the River: Seven Stories That Saved My Life, a Memoir that relates her own path of grieving for her only child, Christopher, who dies at age ten of “natural” causes. What could be worse than losing your only child? For Smith it is not only that her cherished son has died, but that she was not with her child when he passed. How can she possibly ‘forget’ this, or him? Smith states that ‘letting go’ of her grief and guilt was the same to her as ‘forgetting’ him, and that would mean Christopher’s life never mattered. Unacceptable! Yet, her ‘living with’ interminable grief was not the answer either because she isolated herself from Life.

    At one point, Smith is faced with a conundrum: When asked “Do you have children?” what should she say? ‘Christopher is my child’ or ‘Christopher was my child.’ The simple statements made no sense to her. She couldn’t make either be true. The author relates that she read in the New York Times that in the Khmer language the term for giving birth (chhlong tonle) means (“to cross the river”). In her grief she feels like she is being swept away by rushing waters, that she is drowning. Yet, she cannot die because who will remember her sweet son? There is no answer to 'why my child?' Her child’s death impels her to look at how other people grieve under their own painful circumstances.

    As a journalist at Seattle Post- Intelligencer, (she previously worked at the Los Angeles Times), Smith’s boss suggests that Smith try her hand at medical stories. Since she’d been immersed in medicine with her son’s health problems for ten years, it seemed reasonable. Smith deftly investigates, probes, researches, and reports on seven people who each face a unique medical situation. It is through her immersion in each of these stories that Smith begins to realize that there is trans-formative power in loss, and that Hope and loss, Joy and sorrow, Grace and grief can co-exist.

    Carol Smith writes so well that even though the reader is exposed to some horrific circumstances in a few stories, the book and its “lessons” move along. This book could do well as a book club choice if members are first aware of the author’s reason for writing.
  • Debra C. (Vienna, GA)
    Crossing the River
    What a powerful novel! I find myself in total agreement with other BB First Impression reviews: well written, heart felt, enduring, and a testimony of a mother's love, but I also came away with much more than another way to examine and to cope with the loss of someone you love. Crossing the River is FULL of lessons on living life to the fullest, coping with everyday pain and disappointment, and being the best mother, father, sister, brother, friend, and neighbor you can be. I found myself marking passages that I felt would make ME more alive, more aware, and more secure in this world today. I have read many books which lend themselves to be gifted to others; this one does as well.
    BUT, I will be buying copies for friends, because I will holding on to this copy of Crossing the River for myself.
  • Nancy L. (Staunton, VA)
    Grief Like a River
    In her memoir, "Crossing the River, Seven Stories That Saved My Life", Carol Smith details the story of her young son, Christopher, born with multiple health problems who became deaf and eventually required a kidney transplant. When Christopher dies unexpectedly, Smith becomes consumed by guilt and grief. As a reporter for the Seattle Post Intelligencer Smith's beat included science, medicine, and health. Often the stories she covered included men, women, and children with life-altering diagnoses: from progeria to double amputation to horrible burns. The people she met while writing these stories taught her valuable lessons that would help her cope with her grief and move her past her guilt. I was captivated by this story and found some important lessons for myself about the power of a positive outlook. Although this is Carol Smith's personal story, it contains messages for all readers about what it means to be alive.
  • Juli B.
    Heartbreaking, but oh so valuable.
    This talented journalist writes with fondness and great appreciation for those who allowed their stories to intertwine with her own in this remarkably heartfelt account of loss, but also of finding "...balance, how to move forward, how to make peace with what we don't control" and "...that sadness does not mean the end of joy." Valuable lessons for those who have experienced grief certainly, but I wonder if the richness of these personal accounts are even more of a gift for readers who have yet to face such supreme life challenges? The author describes her seven years of parenting as "...a borrowed gift, but truly it is the reader who receives the greater gift of shared knowledge, a beautifully written book and encouragement to face whatever life may bring forth. Thank you Carol Smith for your brutal honesty and for honoring those who helped you find the strength to share with readers the often deceptive path toward acceptance and joy.
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