07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Celebrating Romance When Life Goes to Hell By Sarah Raplee

First published May 28, 2013
As a writer, I learned early on the value of celebrating romance when life goes to hell. During introductions at my first local chapter meeting of Romance Writers of America in West Des Moines, Iowa, a young woman’s story gave me a new perspective and pride in my newly-chosen career. I've heard similar stories over and over.

 “Reading romance helped me through my father dying of cancer. That’s why I decided to write romance novels. I want to do the same for other people,” she said. For that horrible year, romance stories were a great escape from the pain and grief that was her daily life. And the experience of finding love and happiness in the darkest of circumstances that reading romance offered gave her hope—which is always worth celebrating. Laughing through light-hearted romantic comedies lifted her spirits and offered a respite in which to renew her strength.

As a reader, I experienced the power of celebrating romance when my husband went from healthy and strong to the brink of death in twelve short hours. We were in the process of moving to a new home when our timid, neurotic housecat, Jasper, transformed into murderous Demon Spawn. 

In an effort to calm Jasper, we decided to put the confused and frightened fifteen-pound orange tabby into his cat carrier. To avoid getting scratched and clawed, Chuck made the mistake of grasping the cat’s front legs in one hand and his hind legs in the other and picking him up. Jasper just wasn’t the sort of cat you find on the television show, My Cat from Hell. That our cuddly pet would bite him never occurred to my husband.

But Jasper acted on pure animal instinct, defending himself from what seemed like attack with the deadly tools God had given him. He bit my husband’s hands and arms multiple times, going all the way through the ring finger on his left hand. Later, the ER doctor had to cut his gold wedding band in to places in order to remove the ring. 

Despite the cat’s efforts, Chuck got him into the cat carrier. Blood streamed from his wounds, but being a man, he refused to go to the emergency room. In spite of my protests, he insisted on washing the wounds himself with soap and water, pouring peroxide over them, stopping the bleeding, and then helping my sons finish loading the moving van. 

By the time the truck was unloaded and turned into the rental place, it was 11:30 pm and we were exhausted. His hands and arms hurt like the devil, but he was sure that was from being bit and moving things. We went to bed.

The next morning, he had a fever and two wide red streaks running up to his armpits. His fingers were swollen like sausages and he felt dizzy. He was too weak to fight going to the ER.

Turns out that, according to the hand surgeon who was called into the ER, 90% of cat bites get infected. For comparison, only 5% of dog bites do. Feline mouths harbor a nasty strain of bacteria. Anyone bitten by a cat should make a beeline for the nearest urgent care center or emergency room.
Chuck’s severe bite wounds were infused with millions of potentially-lethal bacteria who had multiplied overnight until the infections had spread almost to his heart. Reaching his heart would have been fatal. 

Microsurgery was performed on Chuck’s hand. Years later he still has no feeling in part of that finger. He spent five days in the hospital with IV antibiotics being pumped directly into his heart. He left the hospital on Christmas Eve with a portable pump and the IV still in him. I spent those five days on a bedside vigil alternating between praying and reading a romance novel. 

My faith gave me the strength to function. Celebrating romance kept me sane. 

Has celebrating romance helped you through a hellish situation?


Judith Ashley said...

Yes, it has. I'd really never read romance until 1997 when my father was sick with a mysterious illness and my brother told us he'd been diagnosed about 10 years earlier with emphysema. At the same time I had a long time client who wasn't doing well.

By early 1998 my mother's health was in decline to the point I talked to my dad's Hospice nurse about her surviving. She had the same concerns I did...time would tell.

Up to that point I read mostly non-fiction books related to spirituality and action/adventure (think Tom Clancy).

My dad died in early March 1998, my client died in February 1999. The summer of 1999 my mom moved from a three bedroom house, with family room, living and dining room, to a small two bedroom condo. I was the only one who could help her make that move...imagine sorting through 50+ years of married life...it was heartwrenching.

My mom died in March 2002, and my brother in March 2004. By the time of his death I not only read romance but had started writing romance.

I agree - reading romance kept me sane and was my constant companion during long hours in hospital rooms and sitting by sick beds. I never did go back to reading Tom Clancy like books except for Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code.

Why? Everyone I knew had read it and urged me to and while I admire his story telling, I stick to my romance because life is hellish enough without reading about someone else's hellish life.

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for sharing your personal experiences, Judith. The thing about romance novels and their happy endings is they uplift us and give us hope for a better tomorrow.

Like you, I don't want to be depressed by the entertainment I choose. Writers can shine a light in dark places without killing hope. One of the ways to do that is to write in the Romance Genre.

Cathryn Cade said...


Romance has gotten me thru raising 2 little boys in a small town in the Rockies (an awesome time in my life, but I DID need periodic escapes to fantasy worlds, lol).

It also got me through several moves, when I had no friends yet, and two major surgeries after which I had to do lots of resting.

Looking back, that recovery time was a gift,as it encouraged me to write, write and write some more. a laptop in a big comfy chair was my favorite venue.


Sarah Raplee said...

I hear you about needing a respite while raising kids, much as we enjoy them. I suspect they needed breaks from us, too!

Now that I write romance, I've also found the writing to be a great escape while ill or at someone's bedside.

Thank you for stopping by, Cathryn!

Paty Jager said...

I would have to say writing romance is what got me through my mom's death. Using her as my inspiration for my heroines. Reading anything has always been my escape. When growing up in a small rural community, books showed me there was a world outside what I lived.

Great post Sarah. I'm glad your husband came out fine. Yet another reason why I'm not a fan of cats...

Delle Jacobs said...

There;s nothing like going through the death of a spouse to turn your life upside down-at least that's the way it was for me. Yet while it's romance that I usually turn to when needing escape, for some reason I just couldn't read it then. But in those long and short spaces of time when I just needed to pull away, to be "somewhere else", I would open my Kindle and search for a book that caught my interest. Only one kept me engrossed and gave me the space I needed to re-group. In those last hours when my husband was sleeping reasonably peacefully, I read "In the Land of the Long White Cloud" by Sarah Lark, a saga about two women who immigrate to New Zealand in the 19th Century. You can't call it romance. But it did take me away. Since then I've read many books, mostly romances and historicals, and they've helped me both to escape and to come to grips with reality. I can't explain it. Maybe it was a time when I just couldn't deal with a Happily Ever After.

Marie Harte said...

Great post, Sarah. Yes, I too like to escape from real life and just relax in someone else's troubles and tribulations for a while. I love a good book, no matter the genre. But I'm partial to romances, where love conquers all.I mean, I'm guaranteed a happy ending. What's not to love? :)

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences here Paty, Delle and Marie.

When my mom had meningitis, writing was how I coped, too, Paty. I'm even more caught up in the story when I'm writing than when I'm reading.

I suspect reading a romance reminded you of your recent loss, Delle. I'm glad you found a wonderful book to take you away for a while.

Happy endings draw me to romances, too, Marie. I enjoy all kinds of good books, too, but prefer those with happy endings.

Thank you all for stopping by.

Diana Mcc. said...

I enjoy a good romance. In trying times,I've always got a good book or two that I'm working my way through. The distraction is relaxing and gets my mind off ;current problems. Good post! I remember Chuck and the cat incident, very scary.

Madelle Morgan said...

I am forwarding your post to my husband to read. He also got scratched and bit trying to get Romeo (NOT aptly named) into a carrier for a trip to the Vet. The vet put him (the human, not the cat) on antibiotics right away. Yours is a cautionary tale. I'm so glad your husband made it through such a serious crisis.

Now we have oven mitts on hand for whenever we need to pick Romeo up.

Judith Ashley said...

Thanks for sharing this post again, Sarah. I was bitten and scratched by our cat when we lived in Klamath Falls and had one. OMG! The blessing was I learned I was Very Sensitive to penicillin so I've never taken it again. Thankfully being Very Sensitive is not Allergic but almost - the body saying Warning! Warning! Warning! We've never had cats since then. You and Chuck are more daring than I am.

Sarah Raplee said...

We didn't have a cat for several years, but my husband kept trying to convince me to get one. He knows I've always loved cats. Finally, he convinced me to meet a rescue cat he found at Pet Smart and I fell in love. Freckles has been with us ever since.

Diana McCollum said...

Good to read this post again! Might I say-men in general, have a hard time accepting when they need to see the doctor. Glad everything turned out all right for my dear brother-in-law!!!