4 to 4.5 “Learning To Live Again” Stars!
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, 'Blessed are they that mourn,' and I accept it. I've got nothing that I hadn't bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.” ~C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
The Five Stages of Falling in Love
by Rachel Higginson is a sorrow-filled tale about a woman who loses the love of her life, her partner, the father of her children. Lost in her grief and overwhelmed by her pain she is unable to pick up the pieces of her life once again. I was immediately enthralled and captivated by this book. I was swiftly entranced with the lyrical and poetic narrative and loved the rhythmic flow of this book. Nothing felt rushed. Nothing came out of left field. It was a heart-wrenching story about one woman’s journey and how she learned to live again.
When thirty-two year old Elizabeth Carlson (a.k.a. Liz) loses her beloved husband to cancer she has no idea how she is going to move forward. How can she even attempt to deal with the absolute magnitude of never seeing the man who holds her heart, her best friend, ever again? How will she help her four young children get past such a significant loss? Grady was their world, their protector and the one person they could all count on. Liz finds herself lost in a sea of confusion. Her heart is shattered beyond repair and as each day passes her grief does not seem to lessen. If anything, she continues to fall even farther into the abysmal pit of despair and loneliness.
Six months later Liz still continues to struggle with everyday tasks and ensuring that her children are coping as well as they can living in a home filled with so many memories of the man they all lost. She is trying hard to fulfill the role of both parents and feels as if she is failing miserably. This is when she meets Ben Tyler, a thirty-five year old lawyer who purchases the house next door to hers. Liz is falling apart and has no time for niceties that come with befriending new neighbors. Ben is friendly and becomes somewhat of a fixture in Liz’s chaotic life offering help and someone to talk to even though Liz struggles with accepting any form of help from anyone.
As Ben and Liz spend more time with one another he makes it very clear that he wants more from Liz, more than she is willing to give. Liz has begrudgingly accepted Ben’s friendship but anything further is simply too incomprehensible for her. She loves Grady and feels as if allowing anyone else into her heart would somehow desecrate his memory.
“I tried to hold out, I tried to stop this fall....but I was helpless against this man that had wiggled his way into my life and made me need him, made me want him.”
“I can’t take any more heartbreak,” I confessed on a broken whisper.
“Then it’s a good thing I’m not going to break your heart.”
Ben slowly etches his way into Liz’s life and into her heart. With patience, kindness, compassion and understanding, Ben becomes someone that Liz relies on and needs. As Liz works her way through the five stages of grief, Ben is there for her every step of the way. He never pushes her too far and openly communicates with her about how he feels about her and her children. Liz never expected to find love again but Ben was the right person to show her how to live again, love again, without having to let go of what her deceased husband meant to her.
I found this to be quite an emotionally heavy book. This is a given due to the overall story arc of course. It weighed on me though and there were parts that were very tough to read. At times I found myself feeling a little suffocated by the grief Liz and her children were experiencing. I felt as if I was living it right along with them, drowning right by their sides. It seemed like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, no way out. Ben was this breath of fresh air. I can’t express how much I fell in love with his character. He tried to fight his feelings for the struggling widow at first. He knew that Liz was not looking for any romantic entanglements. However, he was drawn to Liz’s light, her strength as she dealt with such unimaginable pain. Ben fell in love with the chaos of having four young children brings and he could not envision any other life for himself. I loved how Ben supported Liz through it all. He never tried to replace Grady and only wanted Liz to love him as well, make room in her heart for him. Ben did not go into his relationship with Liz blind. He fully understood what he was getting himself into. He was willing to take on such a great responsibility and for that he is a character that will forever be etched on my heart.
The romance between Ben and Liz happened slowly, realistically and organically. It grew out of a friendship. I did understand Liz’s hesitation when it came to pursuing anything but a friendship with Ben. I could only imagine what kind of internal struggle that would bring. With all this being stated, I feel as if I need to explain why this book was not a five star read for me despite the copious amounts of emotions it evoked from me. Liz fell in love with Ben and made room in her life for a relationship with him; however, I felt that by the end Liz’s love for Grady was still very real and palpable even more so than her love for Ben and I struggled with this. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that you do not stop loving a deceased spouse. BUT, I did feel like Ben was getting the short end of the stick. I wanted more from Liz when it came to her commitment to Ben. Perhaps if the ending was a little longer or worded a little differently I would not have come away from the book feeling this way. This is just my opinion though. Please take it with a grain of salt.
All in all, The Five Stages of Falling in Love
is a book that will stay with me for quite some time. This is a powerful story about loss and how one deals with having to move on after experiencing such a tragedy. Yes, this book is a romance but what I take away from this story is how moving and touching it was to see a woman and her children work through devastating grief. Moving forward from something like this is very much a process and I think that is where the beauty of this story lies. Being able to pick yourself up once again and embrace life is likely one of the hardest journey’s there is.
“....because of Ben, my life doesn’t have to end. Maybe he’s the love of my second chance.”
****A review copy of The Five Stages of Falling in Love by Rachel Higginson was generously provided to me via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.