It's not easy to read a book about a young person dying. At times, there is a foreboding tone of everything being so finite. There's also the "young person" factor.
There's an assumption and implication of great loss. Yet in Time To Listen by Amber Turk (edited by Margaret Brown), Amber's journal entries during her yearlong battle with a terminal brain tumour, tell us all about gain. What it feels like to be dying and to be grateful.
Like any 27 year old, Amber was full of life and making plans for an overseas trip to London with friends. But, in November 2002, Amber was diagnosed with a brain tumour and told she had months to live. She lost her battle almost one year after her diagnosis. To gain an insight into her emotions during treatment, Amber was asked to write a journal about her experiences. Her writing would provide medical professionals with greater knowledge to improve patient care.
Amber's entries show her emotional rollercoaster ride as she details her treatments, physical pain, and personal thoughts. On good days, her positive attitude made her more appreciative of life. "I have had a fantastic life," she writes, "and have been so lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life that I have had the privilege of loving and who have loved me back." On bad days, Amber craved death. "I have asked to die. I do not want to wake up in the mornings anymore."
Amber's emotions range from anger, fear, and frustration to a philosophical outlook of life. "I have so much that I still want to do with my life and that although this is a hurdle in my life's path, I know it is a temporary glitch and I can overcome this. I am angry that this thing can come along and change all my plans. We fear change." Her physical pain leads Amber into an attempt to take her own life. Saved by her mother who found her on the floor following an overdose of sleeping pills, Amber revealed later, "It made me realise, who am I kidding, thinking I have any control over anything?"
Another reason Amber looks forward to dying is her strong belief in the afterlife. Having glimpsed her deceased father, she believes he and her deceased grandmother are waiting for her, and that she'll watch over her family before reincarnating. It's not surprising to read this - Amber wants a positive outcome from her journey.
Editor Margaret Brown delivers this book with great sensitivity, endeavouring to present a complete portrait of Amber as patient, daughter, friend, woman, and human being. We can only applaud and honour her courageous spirit. Mostly, it is Amber's fierce honesty that stays with us. She humbly takes a hard look at herself and life as a general observer of humanity. An invaluable and deep insight into the emotional life of someone living with a terminal illness, Time To Listen gives us the opportunity to understand them better.
Fotini Dangiris is a Melbourne based reviewer and writer