autobiography · Book review

Reviewing “A Heart That Works”

“A Heart That Works” takes readers on a journey through the mind of a father who is still walking through devastating losses and profound grief. Rob Delaney wrote this memoir as a tribute to his 2 ½ year old son Henry who died from cancer in 2018. His quote in a The New York Times interview made me want to request an ARC through Netgalley:

“I wanted to ruin people’s day,” Rob said. “I wanted to ruin their week or their month. I wanted people to feel like they’d picked up a book, perhaps for entertainment, perhaps for enlightenment, and I wanted them to be punished.”

“That is one thing grief does to me,” he said. It makes me want to make you understand.”

I did understand. He’s processing his grief. But I almost stopped reading because he marred that tragic story with cursing and vulgar images. I warred internally about finishing this book. I had expected a straight-forward story, but the narrative read like stream of consciousness. “Stream of consciousness writing is a wide-open highway where your mental car can drive at full speed with nothing to block or detour ideas.” Best quote to explain what reading this book was like. And also the song from Sesame Street. These random stories just didn’t belong. They didn’t connect to the main story.

But this also came to my mind: Can you sit with this man in his grief? I thought of Job’s friends. Job’s pals were wrong in how they interpreted the “whys” of his devastating losses, but they got this right in Job 2,

11 When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. 12 When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.

I wanted to sit with Rob in his grief.

Rob and Leah have had four children: Eugene, Oscar, Henry, and Teddy. Rob is a co-creator and star of the British TV series, Catastrophe. He moved with his family to London to film the first season of the show in 2014 when Leah was pregnant with Henry. They had to acclimate quickly, so they were ready for Henry’s arrival. Rob talked in such glowing terms about his wife and children. I loved those parts. Henry started throwing up during his brother’s birthday party and that continued until they learned he had a brain tumor near his brain stem. He would have surgery and undergo brutal treatments no child should ever have to go through. He needed help to care with breathing and eating. Rob, Leah, the “older” boys, Eugene and Oscar, among others learned how to care for Henry. They made sure he knew he was loved and was a vital part of their family. Henry had moments of aguish that broke my heart, and he moments of pure joy, too. In his short life, Henry made an impact on so many lives, including mine.

The hits kept coming for Rob and his family. The loss of one more family member during Henry’s treatment, the cancer diagnosis of another, all within the same timeframe. Rob talked about his previous bouts of depression and his years of sobriety. His anger and regret surfaced as he moved backward and forward in time in the narrative. I could feel the horror, pain, and trauma of those moments as he relived them. I felt like I was looking at an unfinished oil painting. The picture started with colors layered over one another. The artist made swipes with his spatula, and I could see moments of beauty, moments of madness, horror, and unbridled anger as it came together.

Rob taught me about his grief. Things I hadn’t known before. If a friend is walking through cancer treatment, I should not ask “If there’s anything, I can do just ask me.” I should tell my friend I am coming over. I should take my friend out for a walk, or take her for lunch, or just come over to wash dishes and run the vacuum. Also, if someone says they have cancer, I shouldn’t tell him about how someone else beat cancer. Just listen.

Rob started out thinking about going to Heaven to see Henry, but then ended with no hope of Heaven, just nothingness. I think I’m most upset about that part. I mean, he did want to go to Heaven just to tell God a thing or two, but then that anger is normal and expected. I wondered if he realized though that God watched His son die. He watched Jesus die a undeserved, torturous death on a cross meant for criminals. Jesus chose to do this because He loved us. He didn’t want us to continue in this sin state. He defeated sin and death. Acts 4:12 says it best, 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Jesus died and rose again. We can have freedom from sin and death. We can live with God in eternity. I’m praying that someone does let him know that God loves him. He has Henry in His care.

I can’t entirely recommend this book because of those extras that I wish I’d skipped; however, if you want to read “A Heart That Works,” I don’t want to deter you. You can preorder here and here. The book will be published Nov. 29.


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