At the age of 54 Claire Gilbert was diagnosed with myeloma, an incurable cancer of the blood. The prognoses ranged from surviving only a few months to living for several decades, with no guarantee of which outcome was to be hers. It was a shocking diagnosis into uncertainty, or rather, into only one certainty: death. But Claire discovered that facing her own mortality was liberating. She discovered this through writing letters. Claire asked her siblings and a small group of friends if they would let her write to them with total honesty about what she was going through, as she was going through it.
These letters turned out to be a great solace, and gradually her group of ‘dear readers’ has grown; what she had to say wasn’t just of value to herself, but to others, too. The letters chart Claire’s journey through diagnosis, chemotherapy and a brutal round of stem cell treatment, and end with the rest of the UK joining her in her immuno-compromised isolation in March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Unflinchingly honest and wide-ranging, Claire writes about the restorative role of nature, politics, poetry, humour – and a restless exploration of the spiritual dimension of death and dying.
This is an honest, luminous account of what Claire has gone through and what keeps her going, a deeply spiritual meditation on life and suffering, and an exploration of how faith is no simple solace but provides a whole new plane of meaning during these liminal moments.
‘Claire Gilbert’s account of the progress of her fatal illness, from diagnosis through various traumatic treatments, is in turn candid, painful, funny, tender, fierce and philosophical. But most of all it is a marvellously enjoyable read depicting the human spirit at its finest: defiant, exuberant, joyous. An example to us all that we can triumph over the cruellest adversity’ Salley Vickers.