Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss
Review by Cathy Hansen
I have to start off with a straightforward confession: Memoirs are not my thing. That said, when friend asked me to read this book, I looked at the description, and I was intrigued by the description of a dramatic tale about remarrying after a spouse’s death only to lose one’s second spouse far too soon.
Banged-Up Heart is definitely NOT your typical memoir. I found myself double-checking the cover during the first few chapters of the book, certain I’d picked up a sweet romance novel by mistake. The beginning of the book is charming and reads quickly, with Shirley’s chance meeting with John, as well as her first date since the loss of her first husband. There’s even a bit of comedy, as I read the details of that first date and thought, “Seriously? Who says THAT to a woman he wants to impress?” As someone who does not typically read memoirs, I enjoyed that little bit of comedy to help ease the me into a book that I knew would eventually bring heartbreak and sadness.
That’s the thing with a memoir like this--you already know the ending. You know she’s lost her second husband. You just don’t know exactly when, the details of how, or the life they lived in between. There has to be something interesting to keep you reading, and Shirley Melis delivers that something with the details of their adventures together. I started the book thinking, “How awful! That poor woman!” I ended the book thinking, “Good for them. What a life they packed into such a short time!”
Do not be mistaken--the story will take its toll, and I believe anyone who reads it will be touched in a different way and make a different connection with the story. There are parts of the book that are very difficult to read, because the moments they describe were very difficult to live. For me, there were several things that tug at me even now, a week after finishing the book. First, the fact that Shirley got remarried at all took tremendous courage. Having discussed this topic with my husband who faced the real potential of leaving our family forever if anything had happened to him while deployed in a war zone, I simply cannot imagine the challenges she experienced.
The second aspect of the story that really hit me was the idea of slowly watching the decline of a loved one’s condition, knowing that loved one would not recover. My family is experiencing this now, with the cancer diagnosis of one of my grandparents. Like reading her memoir, we know death is coming, we just don’t know when, or what will happen between now and then. I was in the middle of reading Banged-Up Heart on a recent trip to visit my family member. On this particular visit, I had to provide that family member with more assistance than I had in the past, and I too noticed the unbelievable weight loss caused by cancer. The realization that time is very short was still on my mind later that weekend, when I read a part in Shirley’s book where she compared John’s condition to that of a holocaust victim. It was like she was reading my own thoughts on the awful effect that horrible disease has on the body!
I think the biggest take-away from Banged-Up Heart is to take risks and love well. Don’t dismiss the possibility of love even when you think your chance for love has passed. Bucket lists are not just for “some day” or “eventually” because we never know just how long we or our loved ones have. Thank you, Shirley Melis, for a difficult read, but a good read. Thank you for sharing your story.
Paperback: 300 Pages
Genre: Memoir/Non Fiction
Publisher: Terra Nova Books (February 14, 2017)
Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss is available in print on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.
Banged-Up Heart: Dancing with Love and Loss is an intimate and clear-eyed account of finding love late and losing it early—and of the strength it takes to fall deeply in love a second time, be forced to relinquish that love too soon, and yet choose to love again.
When her husband of thirty years dies suddenly, Shirley Melis is convinced she will never find another man like Joe. Then she meets John, a younger man who tells her during their first conversation that he has lived for many years with a rare but manageable cancer. She is swept off her feet in a whirlwind courtship, and within months, made brave by the early death of a friend’s husband, she asks him to marry her! What follows is a year-long odyssey of travel and a growing erotic and creative partnership— until a mysterious bump on John’s forehead proves to be one of several tumors in his brain and spine.
The nine months that follow are filled with a life-threatening infection, three brain surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy. Two years and one week after their wedding, John dies at the age of fifty-nine. More than just a love story or a memoir of mourning, Banged-Up Heart comes down solidly on the side of life. It takes you deep inside an ordinary woman, her deeply felt grief butting up against her desire for more than companionship: passion, sexual fulfillment, and self-realization. It bears eloquent witness to the wild trust it takes to fall madly in love and risk profound loss—a second time. Ultimately, it shows that it is possible to dance with a banged-up heart.
Shirley Melis is a longtime business writer, travel writer, and newspaper columnist who traveled the world interviewing everyone from busboys to heads of international organizations before launching a career in public relations in Washington, D.C. With Banged-Up Heart, she now takes her writing in a new direction, delving deeply into her own personal story of finding love late, losing it early, and discovering the strength to choose to love again. It is a fascinating odyssey, a journey both creative and erotic as Shirley and John work lovingly together to blend their dreams—until a mysterious bump on his forehead starts them on a tragic struggle against the dark hand of fate.
A graduate of Vassar, Shirley Melis has created an intimate memoir bearing eloquent witness to the kind of wild trust that can grow in the heart of an ordinary woman thrust into circumstances that few others must face. Now retired, she lives in Galisteo, New Mexico.
Shirley can also be found online at:
Thank you to WOW! Women on Writing for allowing me an opportunity to participate in this book blog tour!
Be sure to check out some of the future blog stops on this tour:
Feb 28 @ Bring on Lemons with Cindi Ashbeck
Cindi Ashbeck shares her thoughts after reading the touching story Banged Up Heart by Shirley Melis.
March 1 @ Bring on Lemons with Penny Harrison
Wisconsin business owner and avid reader Penny Harrison shares her thoughts and feelings about Shirley Melis's memoir Banged Up Heart.
March 2 @ Book Santa Fe with Tange Dudet
Avid reader and book enthusiast Tange Dudet shares her thoughts and feelings after reading the touching memoir Banged Up Heart by Shirley Melis.
March 3 @ The Constant Story with David W. Berner
Author and radio personality David W Berner reviews Shirley Melis's book Banged Up Heart and shares his thoughts with readers at The Constant Story.
Please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question - it's great hearing from YOU!
Cathy Hansen is a wife, mom, teacher, independent
beauty consultant, and small business owner. She and her husband operate SeedsNBeans, a local nature store, in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.