The Literary Examiner

Haiti After the Earthquake by Paul Farmer; c.2011, PublicAffairs; $27.99 / $32.50 Canada, 456 pages

 You’ve seen devastation before. But this one struck your heart.

Maybe it was because it happened with absolutely no warning. One minute, everything was fine–the next minute, buildings had collapsed with people beneath them.

It’s been almost two years since Haiti was wracked by earthquakes. So much has happened to that fierce little country, and in the new book Haiti After the Earthquake by Paul Farmer, you’ll read about progress, prevention, and a future the author hopes to see.

On January 12, 2010, Dr. Paul Farmer had just returned stateside from Haiti, having celebrated the holidays with family. His wife and children were en route to Rwanda and Farmer, the UN Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti under former President Bill Clinton, was thinking about all the things that needed to be done in the coming year.

Then he got the phone call. There was an earthquake and Port-au-Prince was all but ruined. People were homeless, injured, orphaned. Thousands were dead.

After a quick trip to New York, Farmer flew to Haiti to lend help and organization. Port-au-Prince’s main medical facility, General Hospital, was overwhelmed and chaotic and supplies were dwindling but doctors and nurses were foregoing sleep and basic personal care in order to minister to as many patients as they could.  Still, babies were born in rubble.  Broken limbs were amputated to avoid gangrene. The smell of death was everywhere.

From Haiti, Farmer traveled to Canada to have a “meeting about a meeting” and to see if more aid could be obtained.  He reached out to his friends around the world as he mentally ticked off names: those injured, the ones missing, those lost. Because he had been involved in working in Rwanda, post-genocide, he compared procedures and policies. And he wondered, based on past experiences, what would become of Haiti in the future.

In addition to a deep look at Haiti’s history and culture, author Paul Farmer offers a first-hand, personal- and internationally-detailed look at what happened in the days and weeks after the earthquake. This beginning section of the book is largely political in nature and quite chaotic, which is mildly interesting—but dry, dry, and dry are three words that really best describe it.

Fortunately, the latter segment of the book comes to the rescue with essays by authors with Haitian roots, doctors, relief workers, and global humanitarians. The focus on this section is less political, more in-the-trenches, and more readable.



Saying Goodbye: how Families Can Find Renewal Through Loss by Barbara Okun, PhD and Joseph Nowinski, PhD; c.2011, Berkley Books; $26.95 / $33.50 Canada, 313 pages


The reality about the death of a loved one is that you’re faced with making some somber arrangements that you’re gut-sick to have to make. But, as you’ll see in the new book Saying Goodbye by Barbara Okun, PhD and Joseph Nowinski, PhD, embracing those arrangements and feelings might also be the first steps toward the healing that you and your family will need.

More than forty years ago, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined the five stages of grieving as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Many still adhere to that model but Okun and Nowinski say that it may be outdated. Because of advances in medicine, death today tends to be less of an event and more like a process.

Okun and Nowinski say that today’s “new grief,” contains five different, more fluid, less defined steps going through that process. “New grief” gives families more time to prepare, to change outcomes, and to confront old family issues that need to be resolved before anyone can move on.

“The fact is that grief today is a family matter as much as it is an individual one,” the authors say. Today’s grieving “means moving forward together as a stronger family after a loved one passes.”

At the outset of a protracted illness, families generally start at Stage 1, which is crisis. It’s a time to slow down, and build the resilience needed in the coming days. In Stage 2, unity, a support team is assembled and someone is appointed to deal with insurance companies, medical services, and “social service mazes.”  In Stage 3, upheaval changes family dynamics as uncertainty continues. Here, communication – on both sides of the illness – becomes key.

Caregiver burnout can arrive in Stage 4 (resolution). This is also a time when unresolved issues tend to be soothed. Hard choices and decisions are made in Stage 5, the renewal phase, which also encompasses the end of one existence and the beginning of another.

Authors Barbara Okun and Joseph Nowinski – both psychologists – use stories and keen observations to explain various, but generally categorized, ways that families deal with terminal illness and the long dying that accompanies it. Keep in mind that this is a guidebook, as the authors are careful to stress, and not a final authority; like the iconic Kübler-Ross methods, “new grief” steps aren’t exact or clear-cut.

It is clear, though, that anyone, especially Baby Boomers, could benefit from having this information at hand. 

This is one of those books you hope you never need, but that should read before you do.




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