Last week I read Jonathan Chamberlain’s heart-wrenching memoir, Wordjazz for Stevie (Blacksmith Books, 2010), a beautiful tribute to his late daughter.
From reading the back cover blurb, I knew that Stevie only lived for eight and a half short years. But I had no idea that Chamberlain’s wife also passed away that same year.
In the 1980s, the Chamberlains lived a comfortable life on Cheung Chau, a quaint outlaying island in Hong Kong. Expecting their first child, they never thought anything could go wrong. But when they learned Stevie had Down Syndrome, they realized there was very little support for special needs children in Hong Kong.
As it would turn out, Down Syndrome would be the tip of the iceberg after Stevie, as an infant, went in for heart surgery. Something went terribly wrong and she developed cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and blindness. After Stevie’s first bout with pneumonia, Chamberlain realized Stevie would no doubt succumb to pneumonia sometime in her childhood.
Even with this tragic prognosis, the Chamberlains did what they could to provide Stevie with a comfortable life. More than anything, Stevie loved music, and her parents always made sure she was around songs she enjoyed, even into her final minutes.
Before Stevie passed away from complications of pneumonia, Chamberlain’s wife Bernadette learned she had cancer. In just a matter of months, Chamberlain lost both his daughter and his wife.
The Chamberlains also had a son, so Chamberlain wrote about how he helped his 5 year-old son Patrick through this difficult time. Chamberlain examined the major religions to see how they handled death. He also wrote about the importance of community and Chinese traditions.
Although the nature of the book is sad and upsetting, it shows how people are resilient no matter the tragedy.