“Amy Elizabeth Rosenblatt Solomon, thirty-eight years old, pediatrician, wife of hand surgeon Harrison Solomon, and mother of three, collapsed on her treadmill in the downstairs playroom at home. ‘Jessie and Sammy discovered her,’ our oldest son, Carl, told us on the phone. Carl lives in Fairfax, Virginia, not far from Amy and Harris, with his wife, Wendy, and their two boys, Andrew and Ryan. Jessie had run upstairs to Harris. ‘Mommy isn’t talking,’ she said. Harris got to Amy within seconds, and tried CPR, but her heart had stopped and she could not be revived.” Her death was ruled natural, the result of a strange and asymptomatic heart condition that affects less than two thousandths of one percent of the population. Amy is memorialized in the strangely-titled Making Toast, written by her father, Roger Rosenblatt.
The book is not purely memorial, though, as it tells two stories–that of Amy’s life and that of life after Amy. After her death, Roger and his wife, Ginny, moved into her home to join in the task of caring for her children. And in Making Toast Rosenblatt weaves these two threads together, speaking of one life that has ended and many more that carry on, though only incompletely without daughter, wife, mother.
Not surprisingly in a book dealing with death, the author wrestles with questions of deity and the age old question, If there is a God, how could he allow this to happen? And if you know me, you’ll know that the answers to such questions and, perhaps even more, the grappling with such questions, is of great interest to me. I always find it fascinating to see how people fight through such questions in times of great sorrow. Sometimes they are drawn closer to God and sometimes they turn their backs on him altogether. But in either case they are never the same.
Rosenblatt waits only a few pages before telling the reader his views on God’s role in his daughter’s death. “I cursed God. In a way, believing in God made Amy’s death more, not less, comprehensible, since the God I believe in is not beneficent. He doesn’t care. A friend was visiting Jerusalem when he get the news about Amy. He kicked the Wailing Wall, and said, ‘**** you, God!’ My sentiments exactly.” That anger toward God, a God whose existence he will really not even admit, is a subtle undertone through the book. Later on, reflecting on the fact that of those born with Amy’s heart anomaly, only the smallest percentage ever die from it, he says, “To find out, definitively, that Amy’s death was one in a million or a trillion would only deepen my anger.”
And yet somehow he wants to admit a glimpse of life after death, of something that will make sense of the tragedy. “From the outset, Ginny has told me she feels Amy’s spirit around us. From time to time I have repeated that thought to the children, but I have felt Amy’s spirit only fleetingly. My anger at God remains unabated, and it may be that I do not wish to concede Him anything as good or as kind as providing the superintending presence of my daughter. I know what comfort it gives people to think of the dead as nearby. It would be nice as well to think that the dead are happier to be close to us. But, I am more likely simply to accept Lewis Thomas’s idea of an afterlife based on the principle that nothing in nature disappears, and to go no further. The only spiritual thought that has come to me is a kind of prayer to Amy that we are doing what she would have us do.”
It is sad, really, how he looks for the right things in the wrong places and ends up only more frustrated, more angry, more uncertain. There is no redemption here, no peace or meaning. No joy.
But there are still lessons to learn. And maybe the book’s greatest lesson is one the author has discovered. He realizes that, having heard from Amy’s friends and family members and everyone who knew her at one time or another, he knows his daughter in death in a way he did not know her in life. “I do not know her any better,” he says, “(I doubt that I could know her any better), but there was so much to her life that I was unaware of until now, when I speak with her friends and colleagues and learn of this sound decision or of that small gesture of thoughtfulness. … The distance of death reveals Amy’s stature to me. My daughter mattered to the histories of others.”
It is only in death that we are really known. This is why it is so much better to read biographies of the dead than of the living. Any man may make himself grand in life and any man may appear insignificant in life. But death is the great leveler. Death has a way of drawing out the truth. With death comes the passage of time and through it, a more trustworthy assessment.
For the kind of book Making Toast is, a father writing about the sudden loss of his only daughter, it is surprisingly unemotional and unengaging. Rosenblatt is a good writer, no doubt. But somehow there is a strange emotional gap between what he must really feel and what he writes. It’s not a bad book, per se, but neither is it an excellent one. Yet still it is interesting in its own way, as we are given a glimpse of a family trying to hold itself together in the face of tragedy. One might only wish they had turned to God instead of away from him through it all. Then, perhaps, they might not hold that the death was in vain.
Verdict: Read it if you want to better understand how Christ redeems death.