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Sanctuary: A Memoir

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"Congratulations on the resurrection of your life," a colleague wrote to Emily Rapp Black when she announced the birth of her second child. The line made Rapp Black pause. Her first child, a boy named Ronan, had died from Tay-Sachs disease before he turned three years old, an experience she wrote about in her second book, The Still Point of the Turning World. Since that ti "Congratulations on the resurrection of your life," a colleague wrote to Emily Rapp Black when she announced the birth of her second child. The line made Rapp Black pause. Her first child, a boy named Ronan, had died from Tay-Sachs disease before he turned three years old, an experience she wrote about in her second book, The Still Point of the Turning World. Since that time, her life had changed utterly: She left the marriage that fractured under the terrible weight of her son's illness, got remarried to a man who she fell in love with while her son was dying, had a flourishing career, and gave birth to a healthy baby girl. But she rejected the idea that she was leaving her old life behind--that she had, in the manner of the mythical phoenix, risen from the ashes and been reborn into a new story, when she still carried so much of her old story with her. More to the point, she wanted to carry it with her. Everyone she met told her she was resilient, strong, courageous in ways they didn't think they could be. But what did those words mean, really? This book is an attempt to unpack the various notions of resilience that we carry as a culture. Drawing on contemporary psychology, neurology, etymology, literature, art, and self-help, Emily Rapp Black shows how we need a more complex understanding of this concept when applied to stories of loss and healing and overcoming the odds, knowing that we may be asked to rebuild and reimagine our lives at any moment, and often when we least expect it. Interwoven with lyrical, unforgettable personal vignettes from her life as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and teacher, Rapp Black creates a stunning tapestry that is full of wisdom and insight.


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"Congratulations on the resurrection of your life," a colleague wrote to Emily Rapp Black when she announced the birth of her second child. The line made Rapp Black pause. Her first child, a boy named Ronan, had died from Tay-Sachs disease before he turned three years old, an experience she wrote about in her second book, The Still Point of the Turning World. Since that ti "Congratulations on the resurrection of your life," a colleague wrote to Emily Rapp Black when she announced the birth of her second child. The line made Rapp Black pause. Her first child, a boy named Ronan, had died from Tay-Sachs disease before he turned three years old, an experience she wrote about in her second book, The Still Point of the Turning World. Since that time, her life had changed utterly: She left the marriage that fractured under the terrible weight of her son's illness, got remarried to a man who she fell in love with while her son was dying, had a flourishing career, and gave birth to a healthy baby girl. But she rejected the idea that she was leaving her old life behind--that she had, in the manner of the mythical phoenix, risen from the ashes and been reborn into a new story, when she still carried so much of her old story with her. More to the point, she wanted to carry it with her. Everyone she met told her she was resilient, strong, courageous in ways they didn't think they could be. But what did those words mean, really? This book is an attempt to unpack the various notions of resilience that we carry as a culture. Drawing on contemporary psychology, neurology, etymology, literature, art, and self-help, Emily Rapp Black shows how we need a more complex understanding of this concept when applied to stories of loss and healing and overcoming the odds, knowing that we may be asked to rebuild and reimagine our lives at any moment, and often when we least expect it. Interwoven with lyrical, unforgettable personal vignettes from her life as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and teacher, Rapp Black creates a stunning tapestry that is full of wisdom and insight.

30 review for Sanctuary: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Greenwood

    My badass, strong-as-a-mother writing coach and Pilates student Emily Rapp Black has written her third memoir "Sanctuary," and it is as stunning and complex as she is. In it, she not only tells the story of losing her son Ronan to Tay-Sachs disease at 2 years and 11 months old (on social media, she has called him her “sweetest kid;” “sweetest boy;” “pumpkin;” “such a good boy;” “my little snug bug;” and “super snuggly”), but also of remarrying and having a second and healthy child, Charlie—a dau My badass, strong-as-a-mother writing coach and Pilates student Emily Rapp Black has written her third memoir "Sanctuary," and it is as stunning and complex as she is. In it, she not only tells the story of losing her son Ronan to Tay-Sachs disease at 2 years and 11 months old (on social media, she has called him her “sweetest kid;” “sweetest boy;” “pumpkin;” “such a good boy;” “my little snug bug;” and “super snuggly”), but also of remarrying and having a second and healthy child, Charlie—a daughter. If you want to read all about Ronan and his beautiful, too-short life, turn to Rapp Black’s second memoir "The Still Point of the Turning World." This book is about the author’s resilience—a word that “has texture and meat and nuance and shadow and light and blood in it” and that Rapp Black researches and redefines (38). After Ronan dies, Rapp Black is inundated with well-meaning well-wishers who call her "brave," "strong," and "courageous." They think resiliency is “interchangeable with ‘strength’ or ‘toughness’…a synonym for ‘grit’ or ‘perseverance’…[the] ability to ‘bounce back,’” (37). But Rapp Black disagrees. In looking at the word’s etymology, at butterflies, at Viking ships, and even at children of the Holocaust, she discovers that in fact resilience is synonymous with survival—something that’s instinctual for all living creatures from trees to bugs to humans because “we are engineered to live…hardwired to be tethered to the world and to fight for our place within it, to take up space, no matter the cost,” (13). Resilience then is the “ability to transform, to struggle, to molt” (139); it’s “messy transformation” (140); it’s to be “made of malleable, mortal…morphing…stuff” (140; 158); it’s to “tolerate change without being destroyed” (150); it’s being “warped and rebuilt and broken and then built again” (157); it’s “both fragility and strength” (159); it’s evidence that “what doesn’t kill you changes you” (188); it’s being “built to wreck” and “having endured” (159, 209); it’s “what living beings are designed to do: fight to live” (209). And then there’s “sanctuary”—the book’s title and where the narrator recuperates after Ronan’s death and nests before the birth of her daughter—at the renovated, hundred-year-old St. Anne’s Church in Madrid, New Mexico—her new home with her new love Kent. Never mind that her own father was a pastor and that Rapp Black went to divinity school herself. She—no longer a believer—says a sanctuary doesn’t have to be religious. It can be “a place of peace” (147); “wherever we find the sacred” (148); “places that hold us away from harm” (148); “spaces where we feel love and connection” (148); “any space with walls or without walls” (149); “any object” (149); “any memory” (149); “any vessel” (149); “a place of movement” (149); or even just “a safe resting place” (14). In her new life—one she “didn’t ask for”—Rapp Black must reconcile the world of “both/and”—having “two realities exist simultaneously…as if they were overlapping” (14, 12, 79, 11); having “two things at once, two feelings at once, two realities at once…one loss seen”—her “‘different’ body” (a birth defect required that, at the age of four, her left leg be amputated), "the other unseen”—child-loss (156, 10). She must reconcile having two children: “Ronan: my silent, sweet companion,” who is no longer of this world and Charlie, her “wonderful, incandescent, spunky, gorgeous, kind, funny, smart, adventurous, generous, bright sprite light of a ginger girl”—her “favorite person” (18, 228). She must make peace with being “nobody’s mother” and both their mothers (55). She must have a “body that made a baby not fit for this world”—a body she “hated and deliberately starved” and often has “violent” thoughts about—and a body that birthed two babies, can run, ski, Peloton, Pilates and that she’s also sometimes “proud” of (66, 10, 202, 209). She must manage “the promise of a second chance” and building “a happy life against all the reasonable odds” with the stark reality that grief—"hot and roiling and present in my skin, my eyeballs, my toes, my mouth, my belly”—“never lessens, it just moves around…crash[ing] into you when you least expect it,” (79, 209, 207-208, 183, 190). And while Rapp Black knows that “other people’s stories of loss can be such heavy lifting, so much to hold,” she also trusts us with her story, the very way her own writing students have trusted her with theirs (197). The very way I trust her with mine. Thank you, Emily, for the incredible gift of this book. It is all the both/ands: lyrical, soul-crushing, uplifting, and soaring. You had me crying and laughing and laugh-crying from the first page to the last.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This is the sequel to The Still Point of the Turning World. Things got worse before they got better. As is common for couples who lose a child, Rapp and her first husband separated, soon after she completed the previous book. In the six months leading up to Ronan’s death in February 2013, his condition deteriorated rapidly and he needed hospice caretakers. Rapp came close to suicide. But in those desperate months, she also threw herself into a new relationship with Kent, a 20-years-older man who This is the sequel to The Still Point of the Turning World. Things got worse before they got better. As is common for couples who lose a child, Rapp and her first husband separated, soon after she completed the previous book. In the six months leading up to Ronan’s death in February 2013, his condition deteriorated rapidly and he needed hospice caretakers. Rapp came close to suicide. But in those desperate months, she also threw herself into a new relationship with Kent, a 20-years-older man who was there for her as Ronan was dying and would become her second husband and the father of her daughter, Charlotte (“Charlie”). The acrimonious split from Rick and the astonishment of a new life with Kent – starting in the literal sanctuary of his converted New Mexico chapel, and then moving to California – were two sides of a coin. So were missing Ronan and loving Charlie. Sanctuary is a similarly allusive text, with each chapter prefaced by a poem, and it is again full of flashbacks, threading all the seemingly disparate parts of a life into a chaotic tapestry. Rapp Black questions the sorts of words that she and her experience got branded with: “brave,” “tragic,” “resilient” – “I unwittingly became the poster child,” she wryly reports. In the same way that she’d been praised for “overcoming disability,” she saw that she was now being trotted out as an example of coping with unimaginable loss. But she didn’t want to be someone’s model; she just wanted the chance to live her life and be happy again. Her wisdom isn’t what makes it onto inspirational stickers, but it’s genuine and hard-won: “It has little or nothing to do with bravery. Nobody is charging into warfare here. No gold stars are given because none are earned. I am no warrior of love or anything else.” “Time doesn’t heal anything; it just changes things—reshapes and reorients them.” “resilience is not always a function of the desire to survive. Either you survive, or you don’t. There’s no fault, no moral judgment, assigned to either outcome.” “Isn’t it true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? No. What doesn’t kill you changes you, and those who chose to love you. That is what it means to bear witness, a unique and salvific form of resilience.” Although I was glad to have read both, to have experienced both the in-the-moment and the after-the-fact, I think Sanctuary could easily function as a standalone memoir because of how much of Ronan’s illness it relives. For being that bit more measured and wrought, I think it’s the better book by a hair’s breadth. It tames the fire and just radiates the light and warmth. Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Emily Rapp Black wrote down her journey through grief, a journey that doesn't have a finite end. The quotes she references and her metaphors clearly mean a lot to her, but towards the end of the novel, I found myself not learning and not connecting with what I was reading. I agree with another review of this book that it feels wrong to rate a memoir low. It is an accomplishment to put into words what so many struggle to process. Maybe it's because I'm not a student in a graduate school writing c Emily Rapp Black wrote down her journey through grief, a journey that doesn't have a finite end. The quotes she references and her metaphors clearly mean a lot to her, but towards the end of the novel, I found myself not learning and not connecting with what I was reading. I agree with another review of this book that it feels wrong to rate a memoir low. It is an accomplishment to put into words what so many struggle to process. Maybe it's because I'm not a student in a graduate school writing class that this memoir did not appeal to me. Maybe it's because the author's discussion about dark matter didn't resonate with the science fiction I love so much. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what rubbed me the wrong way, so I'll just end with a positive. The author's exploration of the word "resilience" tied in with the experience of losing her son was a thoughtful and impressive section. And I thought it was brilliant to use a single, broken butterfly for the front cover.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ronda Russell

    As others have written, it is uncomfortable rating memoirs as you feel you are rating a person's life. That being said.... The author of Santuary survived the death of her first child, a son who succombed to Tay-Sachs, and, understandably, is clearly living with deep grief and bitterness. She repeats herself throughout the book and writes in very difficult-to-understand prose. According to her bio on the book jacket, she is highly educated and has a resume of literary accolades, most of which I c As others have written, it is uncomfortable rating memoirs as you feel you are rating a person's life. That being said.... The author of Santuary survived the death of her first child, a son who succombed to Tay-Sachs, and, understandably, is clearly living with deep grief and bitterness. She repeats herself throughout the book and writes in very difficult-to-understand prose. According to her bio on the book jacket, she is highly educated and has a resume of literary accolades, most of which I can't relate to, or, frankly, care about. At one point in the book, she admits that she wants to be a genius. Once I read those words, the book made more sense ---- it seemed a long and desperate striving to prove genius. I finished this book, then immediately moved on to another memoir called "American Daughter" which, to me, was more human and thus, so much more interesting. Sorry, Ms. Black. I pray that someday you reach the point that you don't feel you need to prove your genius.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Virginia

    We carry one another in whatever ways we can…. What doesn’t kill you changes you, and those who choose to love you. That is what it means to bear witness, a unique and salvific form of resilience. I did have to skip a bit - these seemed to be an overlapping series of essays written at different times - but I felt very deeply the sections I did read. I think this was one of the hardest books I’ve ever finished. It was also awful to hear some of the thoughtless comments that people make to grievin We carry one another in whatever ways we can…. What doesn’t kill you changes you, and those who choose to love you. That is what it means to bear witness, a unique and salvific form of resilience. I did have to skip a bit - these seemed to be an overlapping series of essays written at different times - but I felt very deeply the sections I did read. I think this was one of the hardest books I’ve ever finished. It was also awful to hear some of the thoughtless comments that people make to grieving people - the author could probably write a book of just cruel questions and comments she’s been the victim of. I think this will be very painful reading for some people, it was painful for me, but I’m glad I got through it. It's a rare book where I heard everything the author was saying to me, bearing witness to grief through both her own writing and the writings of various poets who’ve been there. I wouldn’t recommend this book except to a very few people who are strong enough to withstand it, to withstand confronting the unimaginable. I visit you every day in the city of grief.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Robert Case

    Like all well-written books, this one starts with a hook, an opening scene with the right blend of drama or excitement to get the reader engaged and curious about the journey the author has planned for us, her readers. "Sanctuary" begins with the author and main character poised over the guardrail of a remote bridge, ready to jump and waxing poetic about the emptiness in both her inner and outer lives, and revealing that the source of this profound grief lies in the loss of her first child to a Like all well-written books, this one starts with a hook, an opening scene with the right blend of drama or excitement to get the reader engaged and curious about the journey the author has planned for us, her readers. "Sanctuary" begins with the author and main character poised over the guardrail of a remote bridge, ready to jump and waxing poetic about the emptiness in both her inner and outer lives, and revealing that the source of this profound grief lies in the loss of her first child to a rare congenital disease. And for me a reader who has never experienced that kind of loss, I still know the feeling from deep within that can draw us to the edge of high places to contemplate the unfairness in the world. I even know that particular bridge. It spans the Colorado River near Taos, New Mexico. The symmetry of the structure and the vastness of the landscapes in every direction have combined to grab my attention every time I've driven across it. So it's an easy choice for me to decide to go along with the premise of the book and follow this author, wherever she wants to ramble. We don't have to wait for long for a glimmer of hope. In the next chapter, the reader meets a three-year old daughter named Charlie, a glimpse into a chaotic afternoon, and a new husband coming home from work. The author tells the story of how they met, the first date, and an important theoretical concept called "dark matter," a subject which becomes pivotal to understanding the connections that seem to exist between memory and the ghosts that still thrive in our hearts. The theme of resilience resonates throughout the book. But first, the author has to rebel against it, pushing back against the application of the word to describe coping with the loss of her first child. Then, she handles the word at arms length, studying the origins and history of resilience; its transition from building materials and ships to human psychology, and finally into the author's personal experience of appreciating the resilience of her own wooden prosthetic leg as a child. With artful deliberation, the author finally accepts the mantle of resilience by redefining it and giving this new book its title. She describes for us the places and objects that trigger in her remembrance and appreciation, a sense of compassion and peace, the universal experience of sanctuary. Emily Rapp Black completes the book by sharing the joy she experiences in working out with a Peloton exercise bike and by extension, the great relief available to anyone who is persuaded that resilience isn't a matter of climbing over a mountain of grief into a new life. For ERB, living with grief is something more akin to shapeshifting; "in fact, there is no willful action at all. Instead, a person dwells in the doorway, holding both lives, one on either side, trembling with grief and gratitude." I highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates good writing about difficult subjects.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Emily Rapp Black has written a wrenching memoir about paralyzing loss and grief and despair, but inevitably, also about resurgence and a fierce determination to salvage happiness in life at all costs. Unsurprisingly then, Ms. Black’s life turns out to be one of overlaps: she has a dead child and she has a living child; she has a former husband and she has a new husband; she has an old address and a new address, and so on. The memoir, to some extent, is about resolving these overlaps; in some cas Emily Rapp Black has written a wrenching memoir about paralyzing loss and grief and despair, but inevitably, also about resurgence and a fierce determination to salvage happiness in life at all costs. Unsurprisingly then, Ms. Black’s life turns out to be one of overlaps: she has a dead child and she has a living child; she has a former husband and she has a new husband; she has an old address and a new address, and so on. The memoir, to some extent, is about resolving these overlaps; in some cases, even about clarifying boundaries or jettisoning altogether one circumstance in an overlapping pair. Accordingly, the author talks quite a lot about “resilience,” using a wide range of references: the biology of butterfly wings; the critical decision-making Vikings indulged in when choosing timber for constructing longships; and how wounded trees’ self-treatment permit ongoing growth. Resistant at first when others talk about the need for resilience to continue living, the author rationalizes and navigates her own arrival at this notion. Ms. Black does, then, reach a point when she wants another child. Ronan, her son, dead before age three from Tay-Sachs disease, does not become one element of an either/or construct. There is room in her life—albeit accompanied by memory’s inevitable and endless suffering—for another child, who arrives in the form of Charlie, a vigorous, energetic, independent-minded daughter, as unlike illness-racked Ronan as it is possible to be. The book’s title has multiple meanings. With her new husband, Black takes sanctuary in an old church bought from his parents. They plan to renovate it and live there. Within the church’s sanctuary, Black finds a deep solace of sorts. Part of her sanctuary is also the tight network of very close and trusted friends who help her through empathic understanding. Ms. Black’s fine and fluent writing make this memoir an easy but memorable read. She uses poetic epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter, no doubt including her favorite poets—Jenny George, Katie Ford, Maggie Smith, and Louise Gluck, to name but a few. The descriptions of her rollercoaster emotions will cause readers no small heartache, and the account of the last days and actual death of her son is devastatingly poignant. Though elements of her life may not be unique, the way Emily Rapp Black has assembled and portrayed them in this stunning book has set a new literary bar for memoirs.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Deedi Brown (DeediReads)

    All my reviews live at https://deedispeaking.com/reads/. TL;DR REVIEW: A portrait of grief and examination of resilience, Sanctuary is a gorgeously written, vulnerable, insightful memoir of Rapp Black’s experience losing her son and having her second child. For you if: You like memoirs, especially those that examine aspects of our humanity. FULL REVIEW: “I feel it in me, that uncomplicated, devastating happiness; it is true and tactile as anything I’ve ever felt. But behind that feeling lurks the All my reviews live at https://deedispeaking.com/reads/. TL;DR REVIEW: A portrait of grief and examination of resilience, Sanctuary is a gorgeously written, vulnerable, insightful memoir of Rapp Black’s experience losing her son and having her second child. For you if: You like memoirs, especially those that examine aspects of our humanity. FULL REVIEW: “I feel it in me, that uncomplicated, devastating happiness; it is true and tactile as anything I’ve ever felt. But behind that feeling lurks the panic that the world can drop out from beneath your feet at any time, because that’s true, too. Lightning can strike the same place twice, three times; it can strike you all your life. Knowing this, how do we keep living?” Thank you, so much, to Netgalley and Random House for the review copy of this book. I also listened along with the finished audiobook, narrated by the author. Emily Rapp Black’s memoir is gorgeous, gutting, and one of those books that makes you feel like just by reading it, you’ve inched toward what it truly means to be human. When Rapp Black’s son, Ronan, was an infant, he was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease. He died before the age of three, and her shaky marriage crumbled even before that. During the experience, though, she found a loving partner, who supported her through it, and with whom she had her second child a few years later. Her memoir tells us about all of those experiences as she attempts to examine and redefine our cultural notions of resilience. The subject matter is poignant enough, but Rapp Black’s incredible talent with prose really brings this reading experience home. Her writing not only carries intense emotion, but also has an impressive ability to evoke emotion. Her similes, especially, I found to be true, sharp, cutting, and beautiful. I underlined so many passages. I loved her selection of chapter inscriptions, and her use of perfect quotations, even in the middle of paragraphs. I also found her writing on resilience to be deeply moving and reflective. In fact, that is what really takes this book from great to excellent — the craft here of examination alongside memory, insight alongside emotion. If you have the emotional space to read this book, I urge you to do so. It is a new favorite. “Watching a splinted butterfly stumble up into the air or an injured bird struggle with a broken wing is uncomfortable for humans. Yet the lack of self-consciousness in the awkwardness or even “incorrectness” of that movement is, for me, the epitome of resilience. It’s less about finding a hidden source of strength and more about softening to the unfairness and beauty of the world, accepting its smooth grace as well as its sharper edges. Pain with benefits. Happiness with blood in it.” TRIGGER WARNINGS: Death of a child/baby; Grief; Fertility issues; Pregnancy/childbirth

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    A mother’s account of having a child with a fatal genetic disease. Her caring for her son for his less than 3 years in life. Her marriage collapses under the pressure. Eventually she gets remarried and has a daughter. While I found some parts interesting, a lot on self help didn’t hold my attention.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Margie Dewind

    Good but too repetitive (as in using the same quotations) of her first book about grief.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jodie Siu

    Stunning and beautiful, this memoir examines the true nature of resilience and how we can move on even after terrible things happen. The author is very human and vulnerable, and her honesty makes me feel better about my own vulnerabilities.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Shana

    ***Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest review*** It feels wrong to rate a person's memoir, especially when it revolves around their trauma and grief. Emily Rapp Black went through the immense trauma of watching her firstborn child die from Tay-Sachs disease. This memoir looks at how that excruciating experience has helped her form and shape her views on trauma and resilience. The content of this book is what you would expect, but how it was formatted made it a difficult rea ***Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for my honest review*** It feels wrong to rate a person's memoir, especially when it revolves around their trauma and grief. Emily Rapp Black went through the immense trauma of watching her firstborn child die from Tay-Sachs disease. This memoir looks at how that excruciating experience has helped her form and shape her views on trauma and resilience. The content of this book is what you would expect, but how it was formatted made it a difficult read for me. I wasn't familiar with many of the literary references she makes, and so that affected how I took in the book too.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bethany

    This book is for anyone who is wondering if they're the only ones experiencing life-altering grief after the death of a loved one. Rapp Black doesn't hold back from the pain she feels, sometimes in excruciating detail and at great length, so readers shouldn't pick this up in the immediate aftermath of a loss or before doing significant recovery work. But overall, I appreciate the author's willingness to lay her soul bare both for herself and for others. This book is for anyone who is wondering if they're the only ones experiencing life-altering grief after the death of a loved one. Rapp Black doesn't hold back from the pain she feels, sometimes in excruciating detail and at great length, so readers shouldn't pick this up in the immediate aftermath of a loss or before doing significant recovery work. But overall, I appreciate the author's willingness to lay her soul bare both for herself and for others.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Amelia Holcomb

    I enjoyed this memoir but was just...bored with it. Perhaps her previous memoir was more interesting? I appreciate the author sharing some of her meanderings about having a child with Tay Sachs disease, the child dying, and the aftermath of moving forward--but I also felt like there was so much missing, like meaningful moments, tidbits of wisdom, and regular, everyday "hmms" and "ahas." Even most of the quotes and poetry that she referred to was only just okay. I enjoyed this memoir but was just...bored with it. Perhaps her previous memoir was more interesting? I appreciate the author sharing some of her meanderings about having a child with Tay Sachs disease, the child dying, and the aftermath of moving forward--but I also felt like there was so much missing, like meaningful moments, tidbits of wisdom, and regular, everyday "hmms" and "ahas." Even most of the quotes and poetry that she referred to was only just okay.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I enjoyed Rapp Black's previous 2 memoirs much more than this one; I felt like the last third was lots of meandering and pontificating. There is a lot of lovely, insightful writing here, but honestly, towards the end, when she was writing about how inspiring her Peloton instructor was, I was starting to find the author a tad insufferable. I enjoyed Rapp Black's previous 2 memoirs much more than this one; I felt like the last third was lots of meandering and pontificating. There is a lot of lovely, insightful writing here, but honestly, towards the end, when she was writing about how inspiring her Peloton instructor was, I was starting to find the author a tad insufferable.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kim Miller-Davis

    Beautiful memoir of what happens after loss. In a deftly written intellectual exploration of death’s aftermath, Emily Rapp Black considers the ongoing role of grief in our lives. By examining the ways in which moving forward does not include the relinquishing of pain, but instead demands the necessity of its continued presence, Black reaches some provocative conclusions about both bereavement and resilience. Black’s son died from Tay-Sachs disease, a horrific lifelong affliction that involved ye Beautiful memoir of what happens after loss. In a deftly written intellectual exploration of death’s aftermath, Emily Rapp Black considers the ongoing role of grief in our lives. By examining the ways in which moving forward does not include the relinquishing of pain, but instead demands the necessity of its continued presence, Black reaches some provocative conclusions about both bereavement and resilience. Black’s son died from Tay-Sachs disease, a horrific lifelong affliction that involved years of suffering as well as the disintegration of Black’s marriage. In the last year of her son’s life, she and her husband became mired in a horrible cesspool of anger and hate— one that Black, thankfully, does not try to resolve for the sake of narrative. In the midst of the vitriol, just as she is saying goodbye to her old life, she falls in love with someone else and begins a new existence, which includes the pregnancy and birth of a daughter. What makes Black’s memoir so unique is her deep soul-searching—her refusal to offer a superficial accounting of her experience with loss. As I was reading, I was struck by her willingness to share the most vulnerable aspects of herself. In fact, Black was so honest, her descriptions of her pain reminded me of a friend whose marriage ended after his son’s prolonged battle with cancer and subsequent death. Therefore, for readers solely looking for a similar story of loss, I would recommend this to bereaved parents. But, because Black’s intellectual and emotional excavation is so thorough, it also stands for anyone looking to understand the elusive nature of grief and resilience.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bruin Mccon

    “Our task is to live through suffering.” Sanctuary is a non-fiction memoir about living through one of the worst things any of us can experience: the death of a child. This book is at its core how to find meaning from our grief. The book will gut you as it should—but the author also examines linguistic theory and takes inspiration from other writers. “What doesn’t kill you changes you and those who choose to love you. That is what it means to bear witness.” The author doesn’t just lose her son—her “Our task is to live through suffering.” Sanctuary is a non-fiction memoir about living through one of the worst things any of us can experience: the death of a child. This book is at its core how to find meaning from our grief. The book will gut you as it should—but the author also examines linguistic theory and takes inspiration from other writers. “What doesn’t kill you changes you and those who choose to love you. That is what it means to bear witness.” The author doesn’t just lose her son—her marriage doesn’t survive and becomes emotionally abusive. This unfortunately happens not just in the awful situation of a child’s death, but also when a child has serious health problems. It’s an isolating experience. And it’s nearly impossible to read this book without shedding tears for what the author experienced. While the book is titled sanctuary, the author is a poetry expert and thus a bit of a word nerd. She goes deep in an examination of the word “sanctuary” and a discussion of Viking ships called sanctuaries that were built to get through a storm without breaking; with wool oars designed not to break. She explores resilience and its recent usage as a psychological term rather than a term to describe inanimate objects. “I stood in awe of him for running through his fear...he carried the source and history of his pain with him.” Grief is a private thing that can’t really be experienced jointly. It’s so difficult to capture for others but the author does so, poetically, in a way that wedges into the reader’s soul.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Monica Snyder

    “‘A butterfly with an injured wing can still fly,’ he tells me, ‘it just won’t look the same.’ He pauses. ‘I mean they just go. Get on with it.’ This resonates with me: the idea that a rupture—in the body, heart or mind—that isn’t fully mended doesn’t prohibit life or the full living of it, through joy and pain...Butterflies don’t think about being uneven or inelegant or made incorrectly or recently damaged as they move, but instead carry on with what they were designed to do: fly. Live. Watchin “‘A butterfly with an injured wing can still fly,’ he tells me, ‘it just won’t look the same.’ He pauses. ‘I mean they just go. Get on with it.’ This resonates with me: the idea that a rupture—in the body, heart or mind—that isn’t fully mended doesn’t prohibit life or the full living of it, through joy and pain...Butterflies don’t think about being uneven or inelegant or made incorrectly or recently damaged as they move, but instead carry on with what they were designed to do: fly. Live. Watching a splinted butterfly stumble up into the air or an injured bird struggle with a broken wing is uncomfortable for humans. Yet the lack of self- consciousness in the awkwardness or even ‘incorrectness’ of that movement is, for me, the epitome of resilience. It’s less about finding a hidden source of strength and more about softening to the unfairness and beauty of the world, accepting its smooth grace as well as its sharper edges. Pain with benefits. Happiness with blood in it.”-Sanctuary, @emilyrappblack I’ve been thinking a lot about resilience lately. @emilyrappblack ‘s memoir ‘Sanctuary’ is a devastating story about grief and loss and beauty. I’m sure there are hard things that need to be gotten over or moved through or past. I also know many, most even, simply cannot be lived through to any resolution. I need this less and less as I grow. I am softer and more attuned to smooth grace. I’m lying in bed today with weeks of recovery in front of me. How can I bleed this time for good? How can I grow? What are the benefits of this Sanctuary?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nat

    "I wanted a card that would scream when you opened it and then immediately shatter." This is a memoir of rage. Of living through agony, and agonizing through living. It's a layering of two disparate lives. The slow loss of a young son unmakes the writer, and in the wake of his death, she somehow makes herself a way of being in the world. With her new partner and daughter, people act as if she's found a "replacement" family or has somehow risen heroically from the ashes of her past. But Sanctuary i "I wanted a card that would scream when you opened it and then immediately shatter." This is a memoir of rage. Of living through agony, and agonizing through living. It's a layering of two disparate lives. The slow loss of a young son unmakes the writer, and in the wake of his death, she somehow makes herself a way of being in the world. With her new partner and daughter, people act as if she's found a "replacement" family or has somehow risen heroically from the ashes of her past. But Sanctuary is about how her past is woven into every moment, and even when she can't make sense of it, she can find ways of accompanying her pains with her joys. I loved The Still Point of the Turning World, which was heartbreaking and breathtaking; Sanctuary feels even more intense to be with. It shows the ugliest, most brutal moments and invites us to be churned alongside them. And it deftly pulls from history, philosophy, poetry, and other literature to help us make sense of the unexplainable, to hear the cacophony we like to call "unspeakable." Few books have clung to me over the years like Emily Rapp Black's last memoir, and this one won't leave me soon, either. Pulled from the depths of human experience, this is the kind of book that shows us scars: not for pity, not for lesson-making, not for shock value—but to walk alongside us in the moments when we least know how to be in the world of the living, to keep moving even when it's not possible to move forward.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chelle - FlowerChildReads

    This was our February #zibbybooks #bookambassadors book club selection. We had a fantastic discussion led by @mehgan.riordan.jarvis Her unique perspective was the perfect voice to guide us through a thoughtful and meaningful conversation. Emily Rapp Black’s first child died from tay sachs disease, her marriage imploding under the weight of this stress, but fractured by existing cracks. She remarried and had a beautiful healthy daughter. This dual realism is one the author fights to integrate, to This was our February #zibbybooks #bookambassadors book club selection. We had a fantastic discussion led by @mehgan.riordan.jarvis Her unique perspective was the perfect voice to guide us through a thoughtful and meaningful conversation. Emily Rapp Black’s first child died from tay sachs disease, her marriage imploding under the weight of this stress, but fractured by existing cracks. She remarried and had a beautiful healthy daughter. This dual realism is one the author fights to integrate, to hold in equal weight in her identity. In raw, brutal honesty she walks us through her life and inner thoughts during this time. It’s uncomfortable, distant, almost daring us to look away from the no-holds account she’s giving. It is a book about grief, trauma, loss. It’s about refining the vocabulary, the conversation surrounding those that are grieving, grievers. They are called resilient, survivors, brave. Rapp Black is clear she’s not interested in these platitudes, these labels. They are unwelcome, they don’t fit. Combining art, literature, neurology, she suggests a richer concept on loss and healing. One that is integrative, holds many realities, converging them as opposed to purging one. The print version was so emotionally dense I was getting bogged down lingering over passages, highlighting, pondering .I switched to the audiobook and this is where I found my groove. Narrated by the author the distinct distance was helpful here. I am glad I have the print book where now can go back and mark passages, references. Your mileage may vary, know yourself as a reader and where you are. The audiobook did not work for another Bookclub member. Thank you to @zibbybooks for facilitating this Bookclub, my fellow #bookambassadors who generously share their stories, add much to my understanding, and broaden my view.

  21. 5 out of 5

    MountainAshleah

    AUDIO. This is an excellent memoir, wide ranging while sustaining a focus on loss, grief, and resilience. That's hard to do, and the author does a fine job. I also appreciate memoirs that don't hide the less attractive side of life such as the dissolution of the first marriage which became ugly as both endured such raw grief and blame placing. The comments from book tour readers are also pretty shocking...I guess they presume an intimacy that doesn't exist beyond a book. Weird. One misstep in my AUDIO. This is an excellent memoir, wide ranging while sustaining a focus on loss, grief, and resilience. That's hard to do, and the author does a fine job. I also appreciate memoirs that don't hide the less attractive side of life such as the dissolution of the first marriage which became ugly as both endured such raw grief and blame placing. The comments from book tour readers are also pretty shocking...I guess they presume an intimacy that doesn't exist beyond a book. Weird. One misstep in my opinion was the narration. Authors reading their own works is a gamble. Sometimes it enhances the intimacy of the word and sometimes it distances. The author is a gifted writer but not a gifted narrator. For me the memoir needed the gravitas of a professional narrator (I believe the previous memoir was read by a professional narrator). The author's own voice was a bit too chirpy, which kept me from having that emotional experience a gifted narrator brings. Still the memoir is absolutely compelling and I listened as much as possible until completion. I highly recommend this book and am grateful for publishing houses that bring these stories to life. In a Google stalker confession, I had to see that church converted to a house in Madrid, New Mexico. Fortunately the real estate photos are still online. What a remarkable home!!! So inspirational. A true Sanctuary as well.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Gray

    Rapp experienced the horror of watching her son Ronan die of Tay Sachs disease and then the dissolution of her marriage. Somehow she kept going. She kept going into a new marriage and a new pregnant, beset with grief and concern. And then her daughter Charlie is born healthy. How does one reconcile the two sides of the coin- still bent by grief and yet experiencing joy? That's what Rapp has tried to describe In this memoir that isn't a straight line narrative. It's always hard to review memoirs Rapp experienced the horror of watching her son Ronan die of Tay Sachs disease and then the dissolution of her marriage. Somehow she kept going. She kept going into a new marriage and a new pregnant, beset with grief and concern. And then her daughter Charlie is born healthy. How does one reconcile the two sides of the coin- still bent by grief and yet experiencing joy? That's what Rapp has tried to describe In this memoir that isn't a straight line narrative. It's always hard to review memoirs because it feels as though you are judging a person's life and their life choices- and I suspect some will judge Rapp and second guess her. That said, she's done an amazing job of flaying herself open for scrutiny and I bet she's harder on herself than even this slim volume reveals. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. This is hard to read in parts but it's well written, thoughtful, and will likely resonate with others in her situation.

  23. 4 out of 5

    the overstuffed bookshelf

    Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Random House for this copy of Sanctuary by Emily Rapp Black. A good memoir pulls you into the life of the writer and holds on to you until the author's story is told. I've read a lot of good memoirs but none of them quite like Sanctuary. Sanctuary feels like a diary or a journal, written from the author's perspective, of the period of time in her life after her son passes away from Tay-Sach's disease. It isn't really a retelling of events Thank you to NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group - Random House for this copy of Sanctuary by Emily Rapp Black. A good memoir pulls you into the life of the writer and holds on to you until the author's story is told. I've read a lot of good memoirs but none of them quite like Sanctuary. Sanctuary feels like a diary or a journal, written from the author's perspective, of the period of time in her life after her son passes away from Tay-Sach's disease. It isn't really a retelling of events per se, more a chronicle of the author's thoughts and feelings reflected in her thoughts and snippets of poems that speak to her. It was a beautifully written memoir, one that I will be thinking about for a long time to come. I really enjoyed the writing style, which was a bit more academic than most memoirs. The use of quotes and references to poets and authors may be a bit more challenging to read than some other memoirs but so, so worth it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I pre-ordered this work and was excited to finally read it. Stayed up all night to finish it and wow. It’s a great treasure for an author to show up so authentic, raw, and vulnerable in memoir. Many often hide things and as a reader you wonder what is missing. Here, Emily Rapp Black does not hide. She takes us through places few speak of, and illuminates depths unexplored often enough. I find myself changed after reading her work, my heart expanding in her life experience and insights and I feel I pre-ordered this work and was excited to finally read it. Stayed up all night to finish it and wow. It’s a great treasure for an author to show up so authentic, raw, and vulnerable in memoir. Many often hide things and as a reader you wonder what is missing. Here, Emily Rapp Black does not hide. She takes us through places few speak of, and illuminates depths unexplored often enough. I find myself changed after reading her work, my heart expanding in her life experience and insights and I feel grateful to find a great leader and teacher in plumbing thru the muck of grief and making sense of existence and it’s taxation. Well done. Thanks for a beautiful work. Thanks for sharing your depths. Thanks for teaching us.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sascha

    Displaying your open mental wounds, meditating in written form regarding the loss of a child and welcoming another into your world, while cathartic perhaps can be very difficult for an audience to read. The experiences and reflections may help others encountering the same path and as such Emily Rapp Black's memoir "Sanctuary" may be a sanctuary for that particular reader. For me, where I am and my own experiences, I found "Sanctuary" frequently too difficult, too wrought emotionally, to read for Displaying your open mental wounds, meditating in written form regarding the loss of a child and welcoming another into your world, while cathartic perhaps can be very difficult for an audience to read. The experiences and reflections may help others encountering the same path and as such Emily Rapp Black's memoir "Sanctuary" may be a sanctuary for that particular reader. For me, where I am and my own experiences, I found "Sanctuary" frequently too difficult, too wrought emotionally, to read for any length of time and finally had to stop. I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cherie

    A really hard book to read. Rapp Black has written two other memoirs before, and I suspect much of in here is mentioned in her other books. In the aftermath of her son dying of Tay Sachs, her marriage has disintegrated, she struggles mentally (who wouldn't in the aftermath of losing a child?), she falls in love with a new person, ends up having a daughter who is totally healthy - but what a painful terrible ride. It was just really hard, the emotions to see saw raw pain, and at times, the chrono A really hard book to read. Rapp Black has written two other memoirs before, and I suspect much of in here is mentioned in her other books. In the aftermath of her son dying of Tay Sachs, her marriage has disintegrated, she struggles mentally (who wouldn't in the aftermath of losing a child?), she falls in love with a new person, ends up having a daughter who is totally healthy - but what a painful terrible ride. It was just really hard, the emotions to see saw raw pain, and at times, the chronology/order felt a bit over the place. I did enjoy it, though I suspect I won't read any of her others.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Janilyn Kocher

    Sanctuary is an honest assessment of Black’s life. The loss of her oldest child who had a debilitating disease. The birth of her second child, her relationships, her own loss of a limb as a child. She shares it all with blatant forthrightness. I was not surprised at the cruel and thoughtless comments people have made to her. The author is strong to have withstood all that she has. Readers can gains strength from reading about Black’s life and her grappling with sorrow. It also teaches one to liv Sanctuary is an honest assessment of Black’s life. The loss of her oldest child who had a debilitating disease. The birth of her second child, her relationships, her own loss of a limb as a child. She shares it all with blatant forthrightness. I was not surprised at the cruel and thoughtless comments people have made to her. The author is strong to have withstood all that she has. Readers can gains strength from reading about Black’s life and her grappling with sorrow. It also teaches one to live each day and also to look forward to tomorrow.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    Emily portrays life after loss in this heartfelt memoir. After the death of her son from Tay-Sachs disease, and the dissolution of her marriage, the author had to struggle to find meaning and purpose in her life. She does find love again, and has another child. But she is still the mother of two children, and she learns to balance the joys and sorrows of her past and her present to live a full and meaningful life.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    A mother’s reflections on the painful loss of a young child, an acrimonious end to a marriage, the start of a new relationship, and the birth of another child. Quite a lot of drama in the author’s life, and her solid writing abilities sure bring you into the swirl of her storms. Particularly enjoyed her discourse on the meaning of resilience. I think losing a child at any age must be the most difficult of life’s many challenges to overcome.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    A follow up memoir to Black's book "The Still Point of the Turning World" about the diagnosis of her sons (fatal) Tay-Sachs disease. Black is an accomplished memoirist and what she has to say about grief and resilience is complex and emotional. I'm not sure I'd recommend this book to anyone but I was moved by the author's honesty and the absence of any "easy 10 step program" of dealing with trauma. A follow up memoir to Black's book "The Still Point of the Turning World" about the diagnosis of her sons (fatal) Tay-Sachs disease. Black is an accomplished memoirist and what she has to say about grief and resilience is complex and emotional. I'm not sure I'd recommend this book to anyone but I was moved by the author's honesty and the absence of any "easy 10 step program" of dealing with trauma.

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