Everything All at Once by Stephanie Catudal is a book about parallels. It tells the story of her father’s death from lung cancer when she was a girl and her husband’s diagnosis from the same disease later in life. In a split story, she shows us that how life has a way of replaying the lessons we need to learn until we are ready to learn from them.
She says, “truth is extended to us over and over before it is fully understood. Sometimes it takes a bending of tragedy, time, and space before we can love what’s before us. Sometimes we need to run away—from ourselves, from our pain, from our grief—before we can find our way back home.”
We learn of her father’s death and her rebellion against it in chapters that are interwoven with the present-day story of her husband’s illness. We see how she ran away from her grief following her father’s death, as if it did not exist.
Catudal discusses how her mother reacted to her father’s death, pushing through and putting aside her grief in order to support her children. Later, as her husband faces his illness, she mirrors these emotions for her own children, putting their needs first.
A Memoir in Parts
In reading a review of the memoir in The New York Times I learned that Catudal did not write the book all at once, but wrote the earlier chapters earlier. I was not surprised since most writers don’t find meaning in an instant. I was drawn to this book, in part because my own forever-in-progress memoir takes a similar type of approach using two similar disease moments in time from my life.
One occurred to me and the other to my dad. After the first, my brain tumor, I pushed forward as if there was nothing wrong, no giant hole in my life or my brain, as it were. I only figured out what I had been running from later when nearly the same thing happened to my dad.
Like Catudal, the similarities didn’t end there. She discusses how her mother reacted to her father’s death, pushing through and putting aside her grief in order to support her children. Later, as her husband faces his illness, she mirrors these emotions for her own children, putting their needs first. In my case, I see how generations of denying disease and seeing illness as a weakness caused me to minimize my own needs.
In fact, I even pretended I didn’t have seizures for nearly a decade, something I recently wrote about in Insider.
I used to blame myself for this time in my life. I was ashamed that it took me so long to come clean about my seizures and that I wasn’t more grateful for everything turning out okay. But I’ve forgiven myself now. Like Catudal, life has a way of teaching of the things we need to learn in time:
“I used to curse my memory, Now I wonder if it is a vehicle for the lessons that fold in on themselves, reminders of what I didn’t hear the first time around.”Everything All at Once, Stephanie Catudal