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Reviews of One Yellow Door

REVIEWS FROM JOURNALS AND READERS

“A small book about all the truly big things: love, loss, tragedy, joy, purpose, pain and laughter. It is – sometimes shockingly – candid, often very beautiful, and shot through with courage, faith and a fierce, heart-breaking tenderness.”

Sara Maitland, author “A Book of Silence”. Winner of Somerset Maugham Award for “Daughter of Jerusalem” 

I started reading Rebecca de Saintonge’s book one morning in bed, and did not get up until I had finished it. ‘One Yellow Door’ is utterly compelling, vibrantly and delicately written, touched with humour. The author confronts fearlessly the pain of the loss of a partner and of oneself in the endless demands made of a carer. It is a love story, written with great honesty and generosity of spirit. Rebecca’s determination to keep loving her husband in his diminishing state, to find the energy she needs to care for him without breaking down, shines through. And perhaps, most amazing of all, she rediscovers the spiritual beliefs she had lost along the way.
J.Pears

This is a beautifully written book that is shot through with a strong sense of humanity. It is often screamingly and unexpectedly funny.”

“The book is not for the faint hearted. It tackles marital morality and conventional theology head on – with honesty, dignity, occasional anger, frequent humour.”

“I am currently on holiday and will always remember it as the time I read this wonderful book.”

“ It was unbelievable how you touched so many emotions of mine. To see written down in black and white the sentiments and agonies that I daily experience has been a great release for me. I hope your book will set me free to live and love again.”

“I was worried the book would be a catalogue of demential symptoms and peppered with self pity. Instead it dealt with this harrowing subject with a light touch and was very amusing.

“ What a skill to condense so much exquisitely personal experience into a piece of writing that is so readable.”

“The theology and philosophy were stimulating, insightful and profound. I particularly liked her analysis of paradox.”

“Thank you so much. It is so very helpful to me on my journey through grief and re-thinking of faith.”

“Beautifully written, engaging.  Jack’s endurance has encouraged my faith.”

“I don’t finish many books, but I read this in one sitting. It’s beautifully written, intimate, personal, agonisingly painful, brutally candid about some of the deepest and most tragic issues in life.”

“To say I was riveted by the book is an understatement. Your love shone through the book like a lighthouse.”

 

HIGHLAND NEWS

Saturday, 3 June 2017
Glimmers of resurrection

Rebecca de Saintonge’s powerfully-written and intimate memoir One Yellow Door must be the most challenging book I have read in the last twelve months, the story of a woman who inhabited Easter Saturday for over nine years.

Ms de Saintonge describes her marriage to Jack, an Anglican vicar whose joyful faith rekindled her own, and the closeness of their relationship. ‘He was an extraordinary rock and with him I felt free, but utterly safe.’
However, six years on, Jack developed what was eventually diagnosed as Lewy Body Dementia, a particularly cruel condition in which the sufferer does not necessarily lose track of their identity as their brain begins to slowly close down. Rebecca was by Jack’s side throughout his painful journey, determined to care for him, ‘to squeeze out of life all possible joy and delight.’
We enter into her anguish as he suffers; into her need to withdraw emotionally from her beloved husband to protect herself as he is changed before her eyes; into the especial sorrow of those brief tantalising glimmers of resurrection when some strong emotion sparked Jack’s brain into life, and briefly he was able to speak, and almost as before. ‘All will be well, sweetheart.’

We experience her anger sometimes towards Jack, and sometimes (expressed in startlingly direct language) towards the seemingly cruel God who has abandoned them. ‘God, you have wounded my love.’ Is God in fact as vulnerable as she and Jack? A friend offers her solace by pointing to Jesus on the cross, the God who suffers alongside her, ‘a bloodied, loving, crucified Christ.’

Rebecca de Saintonge challenges us by the depth of her love and commitment to Jack, and by her searing honesty in facing up to the questions at a time when ‘the simple answers and formulae of Christianity’ no longer offer comfort.

Most controversially, One Yellow Door is challenging in the fact that the author found solace in her walk through Easter Saturday with a married man who, father to a boy with autism was no stranger to pain. De Saintonge does not ask for our approval. What she looks for is simply that we do as a couple of her friends in whom she confided failed to do – listen, and perceive.

She describes the confusion of her growing sense that Nick (the name she gives him in the book) was ‘a gift from God’ who sustains her and helps her to cope and be to Jack what he needs. She wrestles with the morality of this, but has an extraordinary experience of Christ’s presence with her. It was ‘not that Christ was condoning my relationship with Nicholas or forbidding my relationship with Nicholas but just that he was with me. There was no judgement, just his presence. He was holding me.’

Ten years after Jack’s death, she writes as though to him: ‘Nicholas saved us both, Jack.’

And finally, One Yellow Road is the story of a faith journey. Rebecca describes her mystical sense of joy and delight as a child. She tells her how her young, free heart became burdened by a false sense of guilt, and by the church’s endless words – rules, ritual, theology. Heaven was silent, and she grew convinced that there was no God.

Fast forward ten years: Jack’s infectious faith reawakens Rebecca’s sense of the divine. She has a sense of being ‘utterly loved and accepted’ by God, ‘of being reconnected with the source of all that was creative, and hopeful and restorative. It was healing, unconditional love.’

Once again, a theology grew around that experience, until, faced by Jack’s illness, she realised that theology didn’t hack it, and once again questioned everything. And yet, she is drawn back by ‘this great absence that seemed like a presence’ as poet R. S. Thomas put it.
Rebecca’s story challenges us both to go unafraid on our own journeys if we are called into unexpected paths, and to listen perceptively as others share their stories.

I think Rebecca de Saintonge has experienced the truth a friend shared with her: ‘Even at the very bottom of the barrel, we still stand on holy ground, not abandoned, but held in love.’

By the end of the book, she is learning to rest in stillness and openness.

‘I think sometimes, for the smallest moment, I sense, like blind Bartimaeus, the beloved stranger moving towards me in the crowd of the day.’ A glimmer of resurrection, not pointing poignantly to the past, but signposting that future when all will be well. ‘I wait for his touch.’

 John Dempster, June 2017

 

QUAKER THEOLOGY; SPRING/SUMMER 2016

Reflections by Alice Carlton

This memoir tells the heart-wrenching story of a marriage brought through dark days over a decade from 1984 to 1996 due to the husband’s illness with Lewy Body Dementia. What an awful disease. It took him, an Anglican priest, in and out of lucidity with unpredictable fluctuations. It is often confused with Parkinson’s with its movement slowness, stiffness and tremor, and also with Alzheimer’s with its visual hallucinations, delusions, and progressive mental confusion.

The coming of this disease and its impact also raised in author Rebecca de Saintonge all sorts of spiritual questions. Her faith had been a conventional Christian one, relying on the assurance of atonement from original sin with God as all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving. She watched her husband (referred to as Jack in her book) suffer and could not make sense of it, despite his grace in his suffering.

Her struggle is vividly described. “So now, my love, I know the worst. Your brain is shrinking inside your skull. You are going to disintegrate very slowly, mind and body. You will know what’s happening to you. You will see your shit on the floor, on your feet, but you won’t know how it got there. You will see me distraught and distorted and know that you have made me so, and not know how to stop it, or how to help. You will feel our loving in rags and your God absent and I will hold you to my breast and cradle the shell of your skull, for you will have gone, my lover, my dear one. But not quite.”

Jack was the love of her life. He had brought her into his joie de vivre when her life had been shattered by an abusive first marriage, undertaken to escape the obligation to take care of her difficult mother. They had six glorious, adventurous years. They moved to Zimbabwe in 1982 where he worked as pastor of an Anglican congregation and she wrote and helped organize programs for women in the community. They were true intimate partners.

Then the shadow of Lewy Body Dementia fell across their bright joy through Jack’s increasing anxiety and moments of confusion. At the urging of her brother, a doctor, they returned home to England.

As Jack’s illness was finally diagnosed and his functioning deteriorated, the effects shocked her out of her conventional beliefs. How can the Loving God she worshiped allow such suffering?  “Damn you, God,” she cursed. What agony to have the man she knew and loved come and go as his disease progressed. In a moment of despair, she once asked Jack why he should suffer so much. “He looks at me with such gentleness and says,  Why should I not?’” At times she wanted to run away, to die herself, yet she could not leave his care to others.

Then, near the end of her rope, she met a man (she calls him Nick) with a different but similarly dire family life: he had an adult autistic son who was severely impaired and a wife he no longer felt connected to except as a co-parent. He inserted himself into her life and became a lifeline for her. She resisted his attention at first. Finally, the desert she inhabited required her to drink a bit from the cup he offered. When her husband went to visit his adult children occasionally, she got a much needed break with brief interludes of pleasure and companionship. Enough to keep her from hitting bottom, but nothing that vanquished her love for Jack. It brings to mind the old saying:  Some people come into our lives for a reason, for a season, or for a lifetime. Nick came for a reason and for a season.

At the end she got some help for Jack, first at home and later in the facility he was moved to. And finally, in September 1996, he died.

Saintonge then entered another void: what would fill her life now? How could she make sense of it all? What did she even believe anymore? It was another kind of dark night of the soul.

“I sat in silence and confusion year after year, the loss of spiritual understanding feeling even more painful than the loss of Jack. In the end I came to see that, once again, God had to come to me, to find me and teach me not to believe what anyone else believed, but to take me into a space that I could find authentic.”

She read Richard Rohr’s Things Hidden and embraced the idea of original blessing. She read Marcus Borg who described the incarnation of Jesus as revealing, not the dichotomy, but the oneness of the finite and the infinite. “We can become more fully human by connecting with that of the divine within us,” she writes. “That made perfect sense to me.”

I resonated with her search. I left my Presbyterian upbringing and wandered a while until I found my spiritual home among the Quakers. As for theology, other than God is Love, I cannot make much of the concept of God. I agree when she says “we cannot name the unnameable.” The Spirit, the Infinite, God, whatever name we use, seems to me too vast for our small minds to even begin to comprehend.

Six months after Jack died, she and Nick parted. Three years later, her mother died but not before they reconciled. “From being always rather spiky and manipulative, she mellowed and became truly tender, Saintonge writes gratefully. “For the first time, I think, since I was a child, I could love her as a mother, without reservation. It was the most healing experience.” Saintonge went on to get a Ph.D. and to fill her house with books. She doesn’t say so in the book, but in later interviews she makes it clear she also found a religious home among the Quakers.

As she writes at the end:  “I do not know what I mean by ‘God.’ I dislike the word because it is hung with connotations I think unhelpful, even harmful, but I live in a growing trust that we are, as Jung would say, related to something infinite. More than that, I believe this relationship can be intimate. I turn towards a moment of light, and it vanishes. But if I don’t move, don’t try, if I just rest in complete internal silence, then I think sometimes, for the smallest moment, I sense  the beloved stranger moving towards me.”

So do I.

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