Through trying times

Love and Salt Air: A Heart Map of Loss and Healing  
by Lisa Hartley

The Self Publishing Agency Inc., 2022
$19.90  /  9781777936907

Reviewed by Jeffrey Stychin


Everyone has known someone close to them who’s passed on. And although everyone has, this does not make it easier on us for consolation, or our personal recovery through grief.

Lisa Hartley illustrates this to us in her work, bringing the reader into a personal world, where we can walk with her through the passing of her mother, and the decline of her father’s health.

As I raised my young family while struggling with profound grief, I grappled with issues of death, loss and the purpose of my own life. While knowing that we are all terminal, I still struggled to understand and accept the untimely loss of my mom in particular.

Author Lisa Hartley

Those words really struck me outright, knowing we are all here for a limited time and how I, myself, have lost family members I barely got to know and ones I cherish and love so deeply. It can happen so quickly you go into shock, sometimes having to do deep work to reconcile your emotions and thoughts about it.

Lisa’s words grace the pages here and you feel as though you’re sitting with a friend, in comfort through your grief and sharing hers as well.

I remember the minister saying at her funeral, “it’s important how you live your life”, reflecting the purposeful way she lived. She believed in what Dad was doing. She was raised in a time when women were taught to do what they were told, what was expected of them. She loved her children, and she loved us.

Hartley guides us in reflecting on her mother’s values, ways of living, her love for life and purpose. She assists us to take stock in how we live, what we do, what we say and to remember these things matter, and to find a loving purpose and meaning in being there for others, no matter how difficult it may be. Hartley’s family holds strong in their beliefs and they have a wonderful quote in their home today:

We are thankful for these and all the good things of life. We recognize that they are a part of our common heritage and come to us through the efforts of our brothers and sisters the world over. What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all. To this end, may we take our share in the world’s work and the world’s struggles.  -J.S. Woodsworth

Marianne Mueller Hartley during a trip to New York City. Photo Lisa Hartley

There are pages here on details of day-to-day care that Hartley endured lovingly for her mother in need, while reading I had to often pause and reflect. Taking in the heartfelt monotony and beauty, while holding back tears. I feel as though we all should somewhat remember that one day we might need to step up and take care of a loved one, in hopes of having one there for us if and when we need it too.

There is almost always a shift as we mature, a point in our lives when we step into the role of caregiver, the parent, the strong one. As my mom retreated, I can see now that I stepped up and into my strength as a woman. It’s something that I can understand better from this distance, the strength and courage that I found as I walked this last journey with Mom.

Marked by ever changing routines and patterns, caring for someone you love is never easy. Hartley outlines most of her time spent with her mother and family in the declining years of her mother’s life. While things get more difficult you always find a way through and a way to be there, lovingly in support no matter what.

Life is so cruel sometimes, and we could not stop the inevitable. We couldn’t take away her pain – there were missed opportunities and clumsy signals. When I brought her home from hospice, I told Mom, “It won’t be perfect – I have no idea what I’m doing.” She laughed gently and said, “That is the way family is, Lisa. That is what I want”. For a long time afterwards, Gretchen berated herself for not giving Mom more painkillers, for not recognizing how much pain she was in. But it was what Mom asked for. She didn’t want to lose the last days of her life in a haze of morphine. Apparently if a patient self-administers, they will typically choose less pain relief than is prescribed. We want the pain and suffering of life – it’s what makes us human.

Lisa Hartley and her father, William Hartley, on the day of the memorial for Marianne Mueller Hartley. Photo Lisa Hartley

That last line in the quote is incredibly powerful, something anyone can relate to and use to orient themselves through any ordeal, and I can’t imagine having to go through something so difficult, as I have had more distance between those that I’ve lost in my life up to this point. But I have been with family in these trying times. I’ve been as supportive as I was able at these times and I’m sure many of you can relate in one way or another. What strikes me so deeply is Hartley’s compassion, her dedication and her raw details in all of the chapters of this book. It is astonishing, profound, and beautiful.

This artistic expression of a personal story is beyond words. I can’t recommend this enough to anyone going through a difficult time, as I sit here and reflect on those I’ve lost myself. I am endeared to Hartley and her ability to bring strangers into her complicated, exquisitely brilliant story.

If there is a divine, Mom is part of it.

I couldn’t have said that better myself, and I’ll happily include the author in that sentiment. If you are searching for some guidance, acceptance, reassurance, or nothing at all but a calmness, look no further than this book.

Lilacs on the beach at the day of memorial. Photo Lisa Hartley


Jeffrey Stychin  studied verse and poetry through music and art. He began writing as a means of catharsis and as a way to communicate with himself and others. A Vancouver barber by day, a poet by night, he currently resides with his thoughts and dreams in a quiet place full of trees. Editor’s note: Jeffrey Stychin has also reviewed books by Colin Upton, Darren Groth, Earle Peach, Sonja Ahlers, Cole Pauls, and Jeremy Stewart for The British Columbia Review.


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

6 comments on “Through trying times

  1. In reading Lisa’s book what resonated for me throughout the book was her honesty, dedication and crafted prose. Taking the reader through her personal journey with her family through the loss of her mother. It lead me through her story and gave me assurance and guidance as I and others struggle with grief and loss.

    Jeffrey, your review is beautiful and reflective of Lisa’s book.

  2. Thank you Jeffrey. It was a tender thing for me to have my mother’s dying time shared for anyone to read. I appreciated hearing the ways that Lisa’s writing touched you and that it can help someone learning to live with death. I think Marianne would be okay with this.

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