Every once in a while a nonfiction book comes along that is so fast paced, so emotionally raw, funny, beautiful and tragic, you could almost get sucked into believing what you’re reading is a novel.
What Erin Evans has done instead is share the real life letters and journal entries of a family torn apart by cancer and drug addiction.
There Are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden begins during a crisp and stunning autumn in Utah, and ends after a spate of years, the author says left those who survived them gasping for air.
She and her younger sister, Hayley survive their story, but shockingly lose both their parents along the way. Both women describe their mother’s cancer as a terrifying journey into the unknown.
Yet both admit to finding truth and beauty between the chemo treatments, arrests, rehab, dog walks, travel, weddings and other celebrations of life.
“I know if I can get through five years of hell and still see how precious and wonderful life actually is, then anybody can. I am hoping my book helps people laugh and smile and weather any storm.”
To look at the Evans family is to be surprised these vibrant people had any problems at all.
Smart, tall and handsome, Mike Evans worked as a judge in Salt Lake’s capitol building most of his life. Judi was a cute and effervescent dental hygienist, brought to the United States as a five-year-old by British parents.
All her life, she was special.
Her closest friends said Judi had a way of making people smile and putting them at ease – that she lived her life to the very fullest. Her infectious laugh could be heard blocks away.
Her best friend, Mame Fitzpatrick held Judi’s hand through to the end, and remembers her as one of a kind.
“She was always a trooper, and loved the beauty of nature, and put up with my endless ‘Look at that!’ My observation was that she just wanted love and kindness around her. Her endurance for physical pain is only matched by an animal. She rarely complained, so when she did I knew it was bad.”
The same could be said of Judi’s late and former husband, Mike Evans. They both loved hiking, skiing, camping – just about anything related to the natural world. Their friends agreed, when you looked at most people and then at them, it seems shocking cancer took them both so young.
Judith Evans would have been 68 years old today. We find out she has terminal cancer at the start of the book, but the way she faces it down – with a gentle humor and appreciation of each moment as a gift – makes Fairies the opposite of the long and looming goodbye one might expect.
“Mom published her poem, “There are Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden” in a newsletter by the Huntsman Cancer Institute. She was taking creative writing classes there as a way to cope with terminal cancer,” said Erin.
She added in the fall of 2012, Judi was diagnosed with stomach cancer and told she had just months to live. Erin scarcely left her mother’s side through the whole ordeal, helping Judi through years of grueling treatments.
“Mom went on to live over four years longer than doctors predicted, actually outliving my Dad who was healthy at the time she was diagnosed,” said Erin.
In honor of Judi’s birthday, Swallow Publishing is reprinting her poem here.
Erin’s book will be published in early September.
There Are Fairies at the Bottom of Our Garden
Night is full of unknown creatures I am awake, covers over my head Like a tent about to collapse “Mummy” I call into the darkness. Will she be angry or kind this time? I wait holding my breath. There She comes and gently peels back my covers To expose me to the night. “There are fairies at the bottom of our garden” Her whispers lull me back to sleep. The fairies will protect me. I am safe again Cancer is full of unknowns I am awake with eyes wide open Like a wild animal alert to danger. “Mum”, I call into the darkness. She has been gone for many years. Our cancers are the same. She visited me once at my father’s house In spirit sitting next to my bed In her favorite green chair. “There are fairies at the bottom of our garden” I whisper again and again Like a mantra bringing me home.