God is strange. At times, he is awful.
There’s no getting around these excruciating facts after reading Victor Lee Austin’s memoir, Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest’s Wife, and the God Who Gives and Takes Away (Brazos).
At age 38, Susan Austin was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Due to the marvels of modern medicine, she healed. But the cancer treatments brought about the condition that ultimately ended her life—something called white-matter disease. Victor, Susan, and their two children initially felt relieved, only to discover a slow deterioration under way in Susan’s brain.
Readers will admire Victor’s fidelity to his wife and longsuffering, but his years caring for Susan were marked by second-guessing, uncertainty, and doubts. As a husband and a father, a theologian and an Episcopal priest, he limped his way through the fog of maintaining a home, teaching ethics, and leading church members through prayers his wife could no longer pray.
Though a memoir, the book is also a searching exposition of the Bible’s Wisdom Literature. For Victor, the “second best” book of the Bible is Song of Songs, with its celebration of bodily life. When Victor met Susan in college, he was enthralled by this vibrant woman who radiated energy and beauty. “In being drawn to Susan,” he writes, “I was discovering the unified physical and spiritual goodness of a person who was herself most drawn to God.”
From the beginning, words were important to Susan. She was reading before most kids her age had mastered the alphabet. In fact, the best prose in this well-written memoir comes from her hand. We encounter one of her published letters on abortion in which she brings ancient ...1