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April 5, 2019

The Unwinding of the Miracle

by Anne Paddock

When serious illness strikes the young, we are often drawn to their story while feeling thankful a different fate awaits us.  Such was how I felt when I read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow, and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

In Pausch’s book, the authors focused on big life lessons after Pausch was diagnosed with late stage pancreatic cancer while Kalanithi’s book focused on how he spent the limited amount of time he had left, which included living in the moment with the people – his wife, daughter, parents, brothers, friends, and colleagues – who made his life meaningful, after being diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer at the age of 37.

It’s as if Randy Pausch told us how to live the early years and Paul Kalanithi told us how to spend the end. What’s missing is what to do in between those two parts of life, which is where The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julia Yip-Williams comes in. Yip-Williams was 37 years old in December, 2013 when she was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. The mother of two daughters (ages 1 and 3), Yip-Williams died in March, 2018 at the age of 42, but not before she told the story of what happened in those five years.

The Unwinding of the Miracle is the story of a young wife and mother who tells the brutally honest story of her last journey and what she does to prepare her husband and two young daughters for her impending death. By not withholding secrets, she deals head on with fear and unrealistic expectations but, also gratitude (after all, it’s a miracle she lived past infancy when her grandmother sought to have her “put to sleep” after learning she was blind), and love for a life well lived, albeit short.  Not that Yip-Williams doesn’t have her moments of “why me?” or “how can this be happening to me?” She does and the raw, emotional moments she describes to readers are heartbreaking but  its the humor, the determination, the self-reliance, the anger, and the truth that make this book a great read.  It’s the story of a woman who truly loved life, despite the difficult obstacles she had to overcome, and how she had to say goodbye to everything she worked for and loved.

An extraordinary book, The Unwinding of the Miracle began as a blog to keep her family and friends informed but grew to become a book after an editor at Random House read her posts and convinced Yip-Williams she had a story to tell that would help not only her family and friends but other people who would appreciate her writing style, honesty, truth, and perseverance in the face of adversity.  As she so succinctly writes to her little girls:

My sweet babies, I do not have the answer to the question of why, at least not now and not in this life.  But I do know there is incredible value in pain and suffering, if you allow yourself to experience it, to cry, to feel sorrow and grief, to hurt. Walk through the fire and you will emerge on the other end, whole and stronger. I promise.  You will ultimately find truth and beauty and wisdom and peace. You will understand that nothing lasts forever, not pain, or joy. You will understand that joy cannot exist without sadness.  Relief cannot exist without pain. Compassion cannot exist without cruelty. Courage cannot exist without fear. Hope cannot exist without despair. Wisdom cannot exist without suffering. Gratitude cannot exist without deprivation. Paradoxes abound in this life. Living is an exercise in navigating within them.

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