4.5 star read
Imagine you only have five days left to say goodbye to a loved one. Now imagine two different families in this situation. One family resides in Michigan and includes two foster-parents and a young boy about to be returned to his biological mother after a year. The other family resides in Texas and consists of an adoptive couple, their adopted daughter, and the adoptive mother's adoptive parents. The Texas family is dealing with a progressive and degenerative neurological disorder and the mother, although only 42 years of age, is contemplating suicide rather than giving into this horrible disease process. These two scenarios provide the foundation of the story Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer.
Mara Nichols is a young, urban professional residing in Texas. She's at the peak of her career as an attorney. Her husband, Tom, is a physician with a thriving practice. Tom and Mara have been together for more than twenty years. They adopted their daughter, Lakshmi, as an infant from India and are now the proud parents of a kindergartner. Regrettably their lives were given a major twist when Mara was diagnosed with Huntington's Disease or HD four years ago. Since that initial diagnosis, Mara has suffered from a host of HD symptoms, including short term memory loss, balance and gait issues, bladder control, mood swings, and more. She has been forced to take early retirement from her beloved career as an attorney and partner in a law firm, can no longer drive due to motor control issues, and is scared beyond belief that she is unwittingly forcing her family to suffer along with her as HD destroys who she is as a person. Mara's one saving grace is her online link to a forum for adoptive, foster, and step parents. It is in this forum that she can voice her parenting issues without question or judgment. It is here that she finds friendship with MotorCity, also known as Scott Coffman.
Scott Coffman is an English teacher at an inner city Detroit middle school. Scott also coaches basketball at his school and considers himself fortunate to have met some outstanding talent, including Brayden Jackson, his foster-son's older brother. He and his wife have been trying to get pregnant for years through IVF. Now that their lives are focused on a slightly hyperactive, mild behaviorally challenged seven-year-old boy, there's less stress about getting pregnant so of course they actually get pregnant with their last round of IVF. Scott's wife isn't exactly eager for their year of fostering to be over, but she is eager to have some time alone with her husband before their biological child is born. Scott is torn between wanting what is best for his son Curtis (when did he stop thinking of him as a foster child but as his child) and wanting to keep him to ensure he has everything a child deserves: a clean home, three meals a day, clean clothes, and involved parents.
I've got to admit that I put off reading Five Days Left simply because I thought the story was going to be depressing and morbid. It isn't. Don't get me wrong, it is sad. I don't think you can read about someone with a degenerative life-threatening disease and a child being raised in filth without basic amenities like running water by a drug-addicted mother without it being sad. But Ms. Timmer has also provided glimpses of hope amidst the sadness. Mara's story is sad and heart-wrenching, but the love her family and friends have for her and one another is uplifting. It was incredibly disturbing to read about Mara's decline due to HD (there's one incident in the grocery store and another in the elementary school that had me taking a break just to dry my eyes). I was just as torn as Scott when Curtis's biological mother decides to take him back days before he was scheduled to leave the Coffmans. What made it worse was he wasn't even given the opportunity to say goodbye.
Five Days Left is told in alternating voices of Mara and Scott. Although the action takes place over the course of five days, there's a lot jammed into those days. Yes, you'll probably need to have a box of tissues handy when you read this story, but sadness isn't the only thing you'll remember about this story. Five Days Left focuses on love and the families we make as a result of that love. Some of those families are built with blood ties, and others are built through adoption, fostering, step-parenting, and friendship. I found Five Days Left to be a remarkable story with realistic characters and scenarios. Five Days Left is simply an amazing story and I know this review probably doesn't do it justice, so if you're going to take anything away from my thoughts take this . . . you should definitely read Five Days Left.