Find the Good by Heather Lende

Heather Lende was recently asked to write a short essay on one piece of wisdom to live by.  For some of her friends, she thought, it would be an easy answer. For example, her friend from the public defender’s office had a very straight forward “Be nice to the dog and don’t do meth.”  Not so cut and dry for Lende, so she pretended she was on her deathbed and tried to imagine what parting wisdom she would share with her husband and five children who all seemed to require a different inspiration.  What came to her was  “find the good.”  The rest of her book is dedicated to sharing the good from the lives of different people she knows, many of whose obituaries she wrote.

“I believe gratitude comes from a place in your soul that knows the story could have ended differently, and often does, and I also know gratitude is at the heart of finding the good in this world.”

Early in the book, Lende takes a note from Mr. Rogers.  His mother told him when he was frightened by scary news to “look for the helpers.”  Mr. Rogers passed that information on to millions of children and parents.  I, in fact, saw that very message on Facebook shortly after the Paris attacks and began that practice quite consciously with my own children.

“Look for the EMTs wheeling the stretcher into the ambulance.  Look for the guys grilling hot dogs for hurricane refugees.  Look for the motorcycle club collecting canned goods for the food bank.”

Lende talks about writing obituaries, about calling and then visiting with the bereaved, and always looking for a piece of goodness in the story of the person lost.  She says, “How can we reaffirm that there’s so much to applaud, even if they see nothing worthy of ovation?”  Some families wanted her to share the low down awful as well, but she always finds something positive, even if unexpected, to share.

“You can’t have love without loss.  I know that.  I’m a mother, a grandmother, and an obituary writer.  This is not my first rodeo.”

This is a beautiful book.  I am much more of a book borrower than book buyer, but this is a book I will buy for myself and read again.  Find the Good reads like a conversation with a good friend-the people you love and pick up with where you left off.  It is a book I will give to dear friends…those who look for the good and who help me find the good.  The friend I walk with some Saturday mornings, the women I visit with on Sunday afternoons, the friend I email with each night, my mother.  It is a book that eloquently talks about what matters in life and how to choose what matters.  All of those sayings:  sorry for the mess but I am making memories with my children, no one ever said they wished they’d gone in for that extra day of work….there is a real story of a real person who chose to make memories, to value friends and family, and to choose life in all of its beauty and messiness.

“Cry a lot after a friend dies.  Then, when you’ve had all the sorrow you can handle, take a walk down by the river to wring yourself out.  Invite a new friend over for coffee.  Begin again.”

None of the wisdom of Find the Good is new or earth shattering, but it is all valuable.  I think Heather Lende is poised to be open to seeing these gems because she is an obituary writer, but also because she is a wife and mom, a daughter and a friend.  Her honesty is moving.  Find the Good is a short volume, but one you will want to savor.