Jan Briddell Stevens
Outskirts Press (2018)
ISBN 9781478741466
Reviewed by Kimberly Luyckx for Reader Views (12/18)

From its intriguing beginning, with the author and Grim Reaper sitting down to tea, “Crossing the Caring Bridge: What Death Taught Me About Life, Love, Gratitude, and Grace” presents death in a most unusual way. Jan Briddell Stevens takes us along on a courageous journey that traces the last 4 ½ months of her husband’s life so that we can experience what it means to die in dignity.

Jan’s husband, Steve, is diagnosed with Stage IV glioblastoma multiforme, a cancer that is incurable and known to bring about a speedy demise. Yet, his reaction is to rise above the doom and gloom and stay positive. He receives brain surgery to debulk the tumor along with experimental protocols to assist future cancer patients and his cancer goes into remission. In this suspended period, Steve makes the choice to live. Two years later, as symptoms resurface and cancer becomes undeniable, Jan sets up an online diary to keep the multitude of friends and family up to date on Steve’s crusade. She uses the Caring Bridge website to journal their daily routine, thoughts and realizations for all to follow. It is the writings from these entries that make up the bulk of the memoir that Jan Briddell Stevens shares.

Ms. Briddell Stevens has a comforting way of addressing the difficult subject of dying. By labeling the Grim Reaper as “Morty,” she humanizes the thing many of us fear most. Throughout the book, Briddell Stevens continues to use alternate names for Death such as Big D, Mr. D, and Herr Scythemaster. She even dresses him up in a baseball cap and high-tops. Through their conversations, the author comes to know and understand Death more intimately. She realizes that the Reaper isn’t the assassin he is often portrayed to be. As Mr. D explains it, he is merely there to cut the slender thread that holds our souls to our bodies.

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I appreciate the honesty and truth Briddell Stevens conveys. As a daughter of two terminally ill parents, I was both anxious and scared to read the final chapters. Many of the journal entries are personal and relate to specific struggles that could feel burdensome to a reader. But I found comfort in the details of her experience. Steven’s story is bleak as it deals with pain and suffering, yet it is also heartening when family, friends and the beauty of nature offer their support.

This memoir is more than a biographical history. The author’s words are encouraging and fortifying. She tells us that we can choose to avoid, refuse or even deny death but the sooner we accept, respect and acknowledge its inevitability, we will be at peace. In her words, “Death only picks up shells. What we love always remains…” At the conclusion of Briddell Stevens’s book, she offers up a collection of principles to ease the grief that often follows death to help those in its thralls re-experience life.

Jan Briddell Stevens presents a witty, tender version of death that is unexpected. Although she certainly expresses a profound sadness for her husband’s diagnosis of metastatic brain cancer and his eventual departure, she shares her journey on how she learned to pass over and stay present. “Crossing the Caring Bridge: What Death Taught Me About Life, Love, Gratitude, and Grace” is a guide and remedy for those who fear dying and need a nod to move onward in the direction of love and light.