The first few chapters of June Hyjek’s memoir, Unexpected Grace, provides a sweeping overview of her 25-year battle with scoliosis (A curvature of the spine: in June’s case over 60 degrees at one point) and its impact on her life and career. The remainder of the book focuses on a very detailed, personal account of her yearlong recovery from the last series of surgeries and treatments for her condition. While the subject matter could result in a very depressing read this book is anything but.
June’s memoir is not a lamentation over the hand life dealt her. She doesn’t sugar coat her condition or her frustration and pain in dealing with it, but she doesn’t indulge herself in self-pity either. This is a very adult individual honestly facing her condition, embracing it, and integrating it into her life. For me, this is a very challenging approach to adversity. I rail against heaven if a cold goes on too long. The prospect of spending months in bed waiting for my body to heal from surgery or overcome a persistent infection is a description of hell itself. From the way June describes her Type-A personality before her sickness, it might have been for her too. That however, is exactly what she does. Eventually, she also faces the reality that because of her condition she must abandon the business she created and give up the career she loves.
At the beginning of the book, Hyjek describes battling her condition. When it becomes apparent that no amount of exercise, medication or determination will overcome her malady, she describes a very different way of dealing with it: surrender and acceptance. Rather than railing against the pain or wishing it away, she accepts it as a permanent part of her reality and moves her life forward. While doing so, she constantly opens herself to what new opportunities life will present. This is heavy stuff and for it, she applies some powerful assets to help her.
In each chapter of the book, June provides three elements that help us understand and appreciate her passage. First are a series of e-mails that she sent to her supporters. In them, she shares where she is on her journey to recovery. For me, these were the real gems in this memoir. June’s writing style is endearing and throughout the book, it felt as though she was a trusting friend sharing her story as we sipped coffee together at her kitchen table. What a wonderful writing style! Second are her personal reflections on what she wrote. Evaluating her thoughts a year later, she puts each into the perspective of the journey and the lessons learned along the way. There is no sermonizing here. June doesn’t try to sell us on this being “the way” but simply shares where she was at the time and what she learned about herself. Finally, June includes the responses to what she wrote from her network of friends. I skipped over some of these until I got further into the story. As their full importance became apparent, I read them more closely. It was also interesting to me how each person provided support from their unique life perspective, be it religious, holistic, or simply friendship.
There is much to digest in June Hyjek’s book. It is full of wit, wisdom, and as the title suggests, grace. I felt privileged to have her share so much of herself with me. I suspect most other readers will feel the same.
Author, Amanda’s Room
January 1, 2014