“Find the Good” by Heather Lende
c.2015, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
$16.95 / $21.95 Canada 176 pages
The guy a couple streets over is a great big jerk.
He’s one of those bad apples Mom always told you about: sour, rotten, and not anybody you’d ever pick. No, he’s not exactly your idea of Friend Material but you do admire his green thumb. He deserves every gardening award he gets.
That’s another thing Mom always said: everybody has their positives, and in “Find the Good” by Heather Lende, you’ll see how they’re often easy to spot.
Tiny little Haines, Alaska, population “about 2,000,” is a lot like that TV show where everybody knows your name – and that includes Heather Lende, the obituary writer at the local newspaper. She, in fact, knows more than most about her neighbors, and she knows that every one has good in them.
“Find the good.” That’s her mantra when she meets with families of the deceased and sets out to write about the “truths” that will “outlive the facts of this person’s life…” A priest once said that Lende has a “calling” for pulling those from grieving minds, but the fact is this: “People lead all kinds of interesting and fulfilling lives, but they all end.” And, like a grumpy, curmudgeonly miner who spent his early days with a hard heart, people change and soften. Like the beloved father who taught his daughters to fish on a boat he’d made by hand, accidents happen. Like the Native American elder who couldn’t read, so he became a “skilled listener,” or the father who quit a lucrative job to spend time with his family, people adapt. And they die.
But before they were gone, did they find their deepest desire? Did they embrace a dream? Did they, like an elderly woman who loved her trampoline, know happiness? When an older man left his belongings to charity, Lende found box after poignant box of greeting cards he’d saved, and a story. Did he find the sense of family he didn’t know he’d missed?
Being an obituary writer can make one angry, sad, and tearful. “Every recent death dredges up every other loss, which compounds the grief,” but finding the good.
“This,” says Lende, “is what I do.”
Before you start reading “Find the Good,” be sure you know someone who embroiders or does needlepoint. You’ll be keeping her busy because page after page of this delicious book is filled with truisms you’ll want framed to hang on your wall.
At a time when everything you read seems poised to tear your mood apart, author Heather Lende pulls it back up again with this unlikely book on the darkest of subjects – but death isn’t all you’ll find here. In addition to positivity, Lende also finds humor in everyday life, beauty in her surroundings, and the places where optimism hides.
And that is much more than just good.
If today’s outlook is cloudy with a chance of gloom, here’s the thing to reach for, and you’ll feel better. Then feel free to share, because “Find the Good” is wonderfulness to its core.