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Still Life: A Memoir

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An inspiring and brilliantly observed memoir in the manner of Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air and Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie. Father, husband, athlete, medical doctor, Jeff Sutherland had built an enviable life for himself and his family by the time he noticed that he was losing strength in his left arm. He visited a specialist and from that appointment, he An inspiring and brilliantly observed memoir in the manner of Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air and Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie. Father, husband, athlete, medical doctor, Jeff Sutherland had built an enviable life for himself and his family by the time he noticed that he was losing strength in his left arm. He visited a specialist and from that appointment, he writes, "deep personal loss for some unknown reason wrapped its tentacles around me and my family." Diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), he lost his abilities to walk and speak within two years and, confined to a wheelchair, was forced to retire from his life's calling at age forty-three. Not long after, he was locked in his own inanimate body, unable to eat, drink, or breathe without assistance. His meals were delivered through a feeding tube, and a ventilator controlled his lungs through an opening in his throat. The only parts of his body he was able to move voluntarily were his eyes. Despite these extreme limitations, Sutherland made peace with his disease and, surrounded by his loving family, found happiness again, only to suffer another soul-shattering loss. His eldest son, Zachary, a lifeguard, drowned along with his girlfriend in a freak kayaking accident in the river behind the family home. "Despite everything I lost through ALS," he says, Zachary's death was worse. Yet again, through a long process of suffering and healing, Sutherland was able to accept his loss and find a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in his constricted life. His story, laboriously written on a computerized device that tracks his eye movements on a visual keyboard, is a testament to both the human will's ability to overcome unspeakable tragedy, and the power of familial love to heal incomprehensible pain. "When a negative change occurs," writes Sutherland, "we have to choose how we will face it. We can be paralyzed with fear or we can make the choice to integrate it into our lives, make peace with it, and eventually grow from it. With any change, good or bad, personal growth is the ideal outcome. It is my belief that this our soul's mission on earth."


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An inspiring and brilliantly observed memoir in the manner of Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air and Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie. Father, husband, athlete, medical doctor, Jeff Sutherland had built an enviable life for himself and his family by the time he noticed that he was losing strength in his left arm. He visited a specialist and from that appointment, he An inspiring and brilliantly observed memoir in the manner of Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air and Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie. Father, husband, athlete, medical doctor, Jeff Sutherland had built an enviable life for himself and his family by the time he noticed that he was losing strength in his left arm. He visited a specialist and from that appointment, he writes, "deep personal loss for some unknown reason wrapped its tentacles around me and my family." Diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), he lost his abilities to walk and speak within two years and, confined to a wheelchair, was forced to retire from his life's calling at age forty-three. Not long after, he was locked in his own inanimate body, unable to eat, drink, or breathe without assistance. His meals were delivered through a feeding tube, and a ventilator controlled his lungs through an opening in his throat. The only parts of his body he was able to move voluntarily were his eyes. Despite these extreme limitations, Sutherland made peace with his disease and, surrounded by his loving family, found happiness again, only to suffer another soul-shattering loss. His eldest son, Zachary, a lifeguard, drowned along with his girlfriend in a freak kayaking accident in the river behind the family home. "Despite everything I lost through ALS," he says, Zachary's death was worse. Yet again, through a long process of suffering and healing, Sutherland was able to accept his loss and find a renewed sense of purpose and meaning in his constricted life. His story, laboriously written on a computerized device that tracks his eye movements on a visual keyboard, is a testament to both the human will's ability to overcome unspeakable tragedy, and the power of familial love to heal incomprehensible pain. "When a negative change occurs," writes Sutherland, "we have to choose how we will face it. We can be paralyzed with fear or we can make the choice to integrate it into our lives, make peace with it, and eventually grow from it. With any change, good or bad, personal growth is the ideal outcome. It is my belief that this our soul's mission on earth."

30 review for Still Life: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mona

    This book is well written and very well edited. The main topic is grief after loosing a child and the secondary topic is learning how to live with disability caused by ALS. Book is very "readable" despite  difficult issues described and it's hard to put it down. Language is simple and author focuses mostly on down to earth and sometimes naturalistic descriptions of life with disability.  Readers start thinking how they would behave in certain situations and what choices would they make, with the This book is well written and very well edited. The main topic is grief after loosing a child and the secondary topic is learning how to live with disability caused by ALS. Book is very "readable" despite  difficult issues described and it's hard to put it down. Language is simple and author focuses mostly on down to earth and sometimes naturalistic descriptions of life with disability.  Readers start thinking how they would behave in certain situations and what choices would they make, with the main one being- going for lifetime life support vs. allowing things go the natural ways.  It's very difficult to write something negative about books like this, as it always looks judgmental and not sensitive.  I certainly sympathize with the author as well as his family and my admiration and respect for his wife has no end. However, this book may not resonate with many readers, even going through similar tragedy. Author has a great family, friends and community support, spouse being able to provide full time home care, he is able to travel around the world after diagnosis, his family has no financial struggles of any kind, he is able to stay at home instead of nursing facility and in the country with national health care system (Canada). I wonder how many people with similar chronic terminal illnesses, especially in the US (see: health care), have luxury to say all that. We, as human beings, by nature are self centered and ego driven. That prompts us to ask ourselves in times of crisis questions like "Why me?" Perhaps, we should think about it a bit broadly and ask "Why not?" I thank NetGalley and publisher for providing me free copy of this book in exchange for honest review. Book to be released 10/2/19.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David Silva

    Certainly an interesting book that lends some good insight into what it's like to live with ALS - and not just the physical challenges, but the emotional ones as well. The book starts off strong but loses it's way partway through. The beginning has a great balance of detail and summary, whereas the rest gets tedious. Much of the book is far more relevant as a final letter to his family than to a general reader. The incident with his son Zach is highly relevant to the story but the rest of his chi Certainly an interesting book that lends some good insight into what it's like to live with ALS - and not just the physical challenges, but the emotional ones as well. The book starts off strong but loses it's way partway through. The beginning has a great balance of detail and summary, whereas the rest gets tedious. Much of the book is far more relevant as a final letter to his family than to a general reader. The incident with his son Zach is highly relevant to the story but the rest of his children’s biographies contribute little for a general reader. More importantly, though, is how some sections go completely off the rails. Jeff decides to go off on tangents towards the end - attempting to provide guidance on such a wide range of topics as: religion, pollution, life success goals, who we wrongly idolize in society, screen time, work-life balance, sex life etc. Worse still, is his incredibly bizarre pivot towards spirituality. He lays out his beliefs in a detailed list of very specific, highly-irrational beliefs that are contrary to much of his positioning earlier in the book. They come out of the blue and he claims to just suddenly "know". He seems to constantly flip between being religious and not, while firmly believing in spiritual mediums . . . All the while acknowledging that it makes no sense, especially to a trained medical mind. If nothing else, it serves as an interesting look at what happens to the mind as ALS progresses. He claims his cognition was unaffected, but it seems that while it didn't affect his general cognitive abilities, it had a profound affect on his reasoning and overall grounding in reality.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chad Guarino

    Still Life is medical doctor Jeff Sutherland's memoir of his struggles with being "locked in" to his own body after being diagnosed with ALS, as well as the further tragedy of the loss of his son in a freak kayaking accident. This book reminded me a decent amount of the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, as both are memoirs of men dealing with debilitating health issues and written only using eye movements. The first half of this book is a fairly harrowing account of Sutherland's diagnosis and desce Still Life is medical doctor Jeff Sutherland's memoir of his struggles with being "locked in" to his own body after being diagnosed with ALS, as well as the further tragedy of the loss of his son in a freak kayaking accident. This book reminded me a decent amount of the Diving Bell and the Butterfly, as both are memoirs of men dealing with debilitating health issues and written only using eye movements. The first half of this book is a fairly harrowing account of Sutherland's diagnosis and descent into immobility and need for twenty-four hour care. In particular, his "A Day in the Life" chapter that details his routine is wrenching. For Sutherland to be hit with the death of a child while surviving ALS is unimaginable, and his grief is palpable in the chapters written in the aftermath. The second half of the book centers more on Sutherland's attempts to process his grief, find his faith, and discover his new place among his family. I found myself a bit less focused during these chapters. For me, I'm a heavy skeptic when it comes to mediums and uninterested at best in spirituality, so I was not able to follow and relate to two topics which feature heavily in the back half of the book. This is just a personal preference, and in no way do I presume to tell anyone how to process and heal from grief. Sutherland is brave to live with the disease (if a bit fortunate to deal with it in Canada, with their health care system) and his family's persistence is admirable. **I was given a copy of this book by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Sutherland House.**

  4. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    I have a hardcover copy but it wasn't an option maybe because this book was just published this month. Excellent story about a Canadian doctor who was diagnosed with ALS and encountered so much more in his life also. There is something in this book for everyone to read and learn. I found myself stopping mid paragraph during parts of this book and analyzing my own world around me. I have a hardcover copy but it wasn't an option maybe because this book was just published this month. Excellent story about a Canadian doctor who was diagnosed with ALS and encountered so much more in his life also. There is something in this book for everyone to read and learn. I found myself stopping mid paragraph during parts of this book and analyzing my own world around me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bev

    Every human being should read his book. I am going to buy my own copy to reread - and i never re read. Thank you Dr. Sutherland.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David Torgerson

    Read this while experiencing an anxiety/depression episode. Of course what happened to the author and his family would sadden, if not depress many sensitive readers. The courage of the author, with the loving support of a devoted wife and mature sons, helped me keep fighting for my mental health. Was surprised how quickly ALS renders one so totally dependent. Dr. Sutherland is so very honest about his thought processes and emotions. Being a compassionate scientist he reveals how his spiritual be Read this while experiencing an anxiety/depression episode. Of course what happened to the author and his family would sadden, if not depress many sensitive readers. The courage of the author, with the loving support of a devoted wife and mature sons, helped me keep fighting for my mental health. Was surprised how quickly ALS renders one so totally dependent. Dr. Sutherland is so very honest about his thought processes and emotions. Being a compassionate scientist he reveals how his spiritual beliefs have had to change. The same has happened to me over the last 35 years because of my trauma and what did not make sense any longer. I highly recommend this book for anyone who's faith has been challenged by horrendous experiences, and has to be willing to face hard questions about the meaning of life with all it's tragedies. Because the Dr. has read many of the same books I have, we have come to similar conclusions about the "other side" using both knowledge, science, awareness and those that are gifted to hear and see the divine. Those that can find the resources within to keep going, after devastating tragedy, and am able to allow, over time, to remain human and do your best to make life still worth living, then you are a warrior. This is the main message I got from this heartbreaking biography.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    This book is tragic & inspiring at the same time. Dr. Sutherland’s fight to maintain his relevance in the world despite his advanced ALS is nothing short of heroic. It was interesting to learn how he operates in the day to day & what he thinks & feels while being locked in an inoperable body. He’s incredibly well spoken & his EQ is obviously very high to be able to expound on his thoughts & feelings so eloquently. The loss of his son Zach in a terrible kayaking accident terrifically compounded t This book is tragic & inspiring at the same time. Dr. Sutherland’s fight to maintain his relevance in the world despite his advanced ALS is nothing short of heroic. It was interesting to learn how he operates in the day to day & what he thinks & feels while being locked in an inoperable body. He’s incredibly well spoken & his EQ is obviously very high to be able to expound on his thoughts & feelings so eloquently. The loss of his son Zach in a terrible kayaking accident terrifically compounded the tragedy of all the other personal losses he’d been dealt as a result of his disease. I don’t necessarily subscribe to his spiritual beliefs but then I’ve never faced what he has. I wholeheartedly believe that people have to change & evolve to adapt to what life serves to them if they don’t want to allow it to crush them forever. Dr. Sutherland gives me hope & I’m glad to have read this book

  8. 4 out of 5

    mary

    The book was interesting and full of teaching moments from a medical doctor whom was struck with ALS ( Lou Gehrig's disease early in his life.) He took a different road and without giving much away about the book , he has lived over ten years or so with this type of neurodegenerative disease . His mind is active enough that he has been able to keep learning and understanding his purpose for being here- how this affects his family was not really described too much but he seems to have created a w The book was interesting and full of teaching moments from a medical doctor whom was struck with ALS ( Lou Gehrig's disease early in his life.) He took a different road and without giving much away about the book , he has lived over ten years or so with this type of neurodegenerative disease . His mind is active enough that he has been able to keep learning and understanding his purpose for being here- how this affects his family was not really described too much but he seems to have created a world even being locked in his own body. I think most of the book was his venue to grieve losses in his life- understandably so. I did find the book a little preachy in some parts but overall inspirational .

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cassondra

    This was a very readable book about tragedy and grief. Some of the peace that the author finds is in spiritual practices that I don't necessarily agree with, and it was hard to hear about some estrangement in his family aired publically in a book, but it's also a window into a horrible experience that the author has in being diagnosed with ALS and grieving the loss of his son at an early age. I will hold onto it as a reminder that everyone grieves differently, that we can't understand always the This was a very readable book about tragedy and grief. Some of the peace that the author finds is in spiritual practices that I don't necessarily agree with, and it was hard to hear about some estrangement in his family aired publically in a book, but it's also a window into a horrible experience that the author has in being diagnosed with ALS and grieving the loss of his son at an early age. I will hold onto it as a reminder that everyone grieves differently, that we can't understand always the ways that people find peace and hope, and that we can try to be there for each other even when we disagree.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Helen Woodruff

    A most tender, humbling book written from the heart A must read for all…how much we take for granted, through Life, until a crises hits: emotional, mental, health, death, grief, and tragedy. How do you cope, what are your expectations —it’s all here, an eye glimpse into the the life of Dr. Jeff Sutherland, his beloved wife, children, family and friends. It is an unforgettable courageous , honest story, “you’ll” be glad you did!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    A great read written by a Dr. who has lived life with ALS for over 12 years. An insight on how life changes in an instant and how lucky we are to be living a healthy lifestyle that we take for granted and how we would deal with such our existence if it ever happened to any of us. What a remarkable tribute to the love and support of family and friends. Thank you Dr Sutherland for this incredible book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Little Mexiaz

    Resilience !! Jeff's story is one of those life experiences that we hope will never happen to our life, that if we get to choose. But the fact is we dont get to choose. Life is full of surprises, good or bad. Jeff manages to survive 'the worst' by being resilience and turn it around. Resilience !! Jeff's story is one of those life experiences that we hope will never happen to our life, that if we get to choose. But the fact is we dont get to choose. Life is full of surprises, good or bad. Jeff manages to survive 'the worst' by being resilience and turn it around.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    A Good Read I appreciate the author sharing his story-and telling it so honestly. It was hard to read at times, but I'm glad to have learned what it is like for people that have such limiting disabilities. It's made me empathetic for them and grateful for all my blessings. A Good Read I appreciate the author sharing his story-and telling it so honestly. It was hard to read at times, but I'm glad to have learned what it is like for people that have such limiting disabilities. It's made me empathetic for them and grateful for all my blessings.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Brooks

    I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is a difficult book to read because the author holds nothing back about his experiences with ALS, but so much of his experience can positively impact any person, whether well or incapacitated.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Lin

    Wisdom for life, especially those of us facing devastating loss as Dr. Sutherland has, and also a love letter to his family as he faces his terminal illness. As a bereaved mother, I related to so much of what he had to say and found strength and comfort in his words.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lynda Bernadette Rojas

    Raw, real, heartbreakingly beautiful The depth of honesty into how, regardless of circumstance all of us has a purpose and Dr. Sutherland and his family is an inspiration to all of us to live ours. This read has been life changing for me.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ilona Nichterlein

    I was particularly moved by Jeff's spiritual development throughout the book. I was particularly moved by Jeff's spiritual development throughout the book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michaela Shelley

    The lessons taught in this memoir are definitely ones worth rereading!

  19. 5 out of 5

    muddypages - Jenny

    Started out fast, then slowed down towards the end for me. However, I enjoyed this book tremendously. It made me laugh, cry and gave me an entire new level of respect for those living with ALS.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jadyn PS

    Such a good and insightful memoir. Have Kleenex nearby. Love that it lets us in to the mind of someone with ALS and things we may not be aware of without modern technology.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Daniel E. Sesma

    Excellent listen and read! Excellent book offering great insight as to how life with a terminal disease may be viewed and lived through spirituality and psychology.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Toni Lolo Lolo

    Trully revealing to get to know in first hand the thoughts and experience of a person with ALS. It contians teachings, insights and reflections that might be useful for everyone. I enjoyed specially the first and last parts

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alexandra Coffey

    Thank you so much to Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book prior to the release date (10/2/2019). This book was so well-written. It takes the reader in Jeff’s journey with ALS and grief. Some of the questions raised in this book were so intriguing to me: on faith and spirituality, on quality of life, on grief, and on how privilege impacts one’s ability to challenge a terminal disease. The picture Jeff provides of ALS is so raw and eye-opening. A few of the later chapters on grief rega Thank you so much to Netgalley for the opportunity to review this book prior to the release date (10/2/2019). This book was so well-written. It takes the reader in Jeff’s journey with ALS and grief. Some of the questions raised in this book were so intriguing to me: on faith and spirituality, on quality of life, on grief, and on how privilege impacts one’s ability to challenge a terminal disease. The picture Jeff provides of ALS is so raw and eye-opening. A few of the later chapters on grief regarding the loss of the author’s son became a little too philosophical for my interest. However, the last chapter made me cry. I will definitely recommend this to friends at the release date.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This was a deeply moving memoir of the effects of unimaginable tragedy on a family. We often think that when something catastrophic happens to us that we will be somehow immune from further devastation. Jeff Sutherland proves this is not the case. This was a detailed and much needed look at AlS from the perspective of the ‘client’ and of the effects of grief on not just the immediate family but the extended family and community.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Heather Bennett

    Still Life is a emotional story. This is hard to criticize, but many people living with this disease or similar horrifying diseases would not have luxury to travel their final days. Many own in different parts of the world have no money or health care. I am glad this man could enjoy his time.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Anne Engel

  28. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alison

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amy

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