Second Chances and Generational Healing

Author: Sandra Byrd

Whidbey Island, 1950s. Helen Devries is recently widowed. She grieves her Navy husband, who died in an unlikely training accident, and the fact that her deepest dream, to have his child, has now faded into an impossibility. Everyday, she goes to the Navy hospital, tends wounds, works with soldiers, and hides her grief, until one day she receives an unlikely phone call. Choi Eunhee is a widow in a strange country, discriminated against, alone, frightened. She reaches out to Helen and together the two women thwart expectation and find healing, peace, second chances, and new life. But it’s not an easy journey, and while there are moments of light, there is far more grief ahead.

Whidbey Island, 1990s. Cassidy Quinn has returned to her grandmother’s home to set the estate right and to receive a final benediction and request from Helen. Cassidy is at a loss. She doesn’t know what to do with her messy inheritance, with her fractured life. And her grandmother’s death-bed request is a strange one. She must reach out to Grace Kim, Eunhee’s granddaughter, and together the two must go through the attic, the hope chest, and confront their families’ secrets. What they discover is both freeing and terrifying, choked with sorrow and wended through with a mission and new hope.

Following these four women across generations, Heirlooms is a gentle, yet impactful story of what we leave behind, of what we set our children and grandchildren to inherit, and of the healing power of faith in God. There is a little something here for everyone. Deep friendship, cooking and gardening, rekindled love, forgiveness, a thoughtful, compassionate examination of special needs children (autism and Down Syndrome in particular), and a call to action to spread love and understanding.

The story is not all sunshine. Just as the most beautiful rose in the garden will some day wither and die, there are some very hard truths and events here. We see widowhood; the loss of a child; the widespread, horrific institutional mistreatment of children with special needs throughout the 1950s; cultural cruelties; cruel parents; and so very much loss and sacrifice. The beauty of the tale is only strengthened by its realism, by the gentle way it confronts both good and evil in the world, and gives the reader a sense of hope, of mission, and the unfailing mercy of God.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

With so much going on, readers are bound to enjoy or relate to one story more than another. I personally enjoyed the 1950s segment with Choi’s and Helen’s evolving friendship; Cassidy, although more contemporary, certainly has an easier way to go, and her choices and difficulties are more job related, whereas Choi’s and Helen’s are more deeply disturbing and therefore, their answer more impactful. Nevertheless, it all weaves together well to create a vignette of life, with all its ups and downs. It ends, as it began, with a concept from Choi, a Korean idea of taking tradition and molding it, of giving something the taste of your own hands. It’s at times uplifting, at other times tearjerking, but always impactful.

One note: I highly recommend Heirlooms in book format as averse to Audible. The Audible narrator is truly terrible and gives little to no inflection. This dry, pragmatic reading is a distraction from the emotions of the characters and the description of the narrative.

In the end, I greatly enjoyed Heirlooms both for its thoughtful content, faith-based delivery, and unflinching witnessing to the truth of the world and how we, the individual, can work to make things better, to right wrongs, to share love and faith, and to continue building our own heirlooms to pass to future generations.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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