Books Saved Me

I’ve been a lover of words and books and writers since childhood. I treasure the way we can be educated, transported, and transformed through what we read and the stories we share. Every so often, I hear a phrase strung together, like pearls on a string, that resonates deeply in my soul. How a phrase lands can be as breathtaking as the most beautiful view from a mountaintop.

During difficult times, I’ve often turned to books for comfort, wisdom, and to feel less alone in my struggles. The author that saved me from my grief was Viktor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning helped me to understand I had a choice in how to respond to my grieving and my loss. The story of his personal triumph over being imprisoned in a Nazi death camp inspired me to find a way to go on. Pema Chodron’s, When Things Fall Apart and Start Where You Are were also extremely helpful.

Books Teach Me

When I want to explore and expand my knowledge and understanding of myself, others, and the world, I seek out the experts and learn from their articles, studies, and books. Most recently, I downloaded a copy of Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone. Like Lori, I have an extensive and successful first career in the film business and left it to move into a helping profession. I expected to gain some insights from her memoir. I did not expect her description of her relationship with her therapist and her father to catch my breath the way that it did.

Pearls of Wisdom

“Because my father, too, shows me how it feels to be exquisitely seen,” she writes.

And there it is captured in one phrase. Of the many, many things I will forever miss about Gary, even nearly twenty years after his death, the way he made me feel “exquisitely seen” is, I believe, the thing I most miss.

Maybe what we miss changes over time as we transform and grow. But right now, in this moment, having that person who sees me for all of me – as much as one person can see of another – the strengths, the flaws, the dreams, the fears – that is what I miss most.

When You Are Seen

Gary saw who I was capable of being when I couldn’t see it for myself. In the earlier years of our marriage, we struggled with how he called me to step into my greatness. He wanted the best for me. Sometimes his words landed harshly on my ears. Perceived criticism triggered my defensiveness. But we always knew our underlying intentions were rooted in love and wanting the best for each other and our marriage.

Later, the experiences of cancer smoothed some of the rougher edges. He began to practice what we called “compassionate honesty,” he learned to hold me gently accountable.

Acceptance & Growth

Being exquisitely seen helped me to feel safe to stretch and grow. His acceptance of my flaws allowed me to be less judgmental of myself. When you’re seen like that, you feel validated and loved…for all of your parts – your messy, ugly moments and your beautiful, creative, intelligent divine ones.

And when your most precious partner in life is diagnosed with cancer, being able to exquisitely see allows for acceptance. The acceptance of what is lost to cancer – hair, fertility, physical wellbeing, future dreams. To exquisitely see Gary meant focusing on the artist, the creator, the best friend, the keeper of my secrets, the curious and intelligent thinker, and the man who made my dreams come true.

What Matters & What I Miss

At different times in our years together, Gary would stop suddenly and say, “you’re so beautiful.” What mattered most to me was that he meant all of me was beautiful to him.  All the imperfections, all the parts of me I was growing into – and that’s what felt so exquisite.

Being exquisitely seen is, at this moment, the thing I most miss. Perhaps I’ll have this again someday and perhaps not. I can’t know for sure, but I can sit in gratitude that for ten years – for an entire decade – I was seen.


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Tambre Leighn

Tambre Leighn is a published author, speaker, and outspoken patient/caregiver advocate. Her background as a professional athlete and her personal experience caregiving for her late husband along with her struggles with grief-related depression after being widowed inspired Tambre to become a coach. After years of coaching individual clients, she now provides consulting and training to healthcare organizations to improve the patient and caregiver experience. In her down time, she enjoys dancing Argentine Tango and writing.

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