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Book Review

by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Peonies in Winter:

A Journey through loss, Grief, and Healing

By Sally Rosenthal

Published: December 6, 2021

From the back cover:

This is a small book for the small hours when we sit alone in the dark or feel as though our grief isolates us. Although we all travel sorrow’s path at some point in our lives, many of us walk that road alone and bewildered, failing to reach out to grasp the waiting hand of a fellow traveler.

First impressions are important because a book, the cover is a work of art that can grab our attention. This one does not disappoint. The image is a Japanese painting of delicate cerise peonies in full bloom. It is winter time and we can see white snowflakes falling on the deep pink flowers. Slender green branches and leaves are placed on a creamy background. Immediately this first impression of the book’s cover makes me want to turn the page and begin reading Sally Rosenthal’s short personal stories and poems.

The Introduction provides insight into Sally’s themes in this collection: Aging, caregiving, circumstance, loss, and living alone.

In her opening poem, “Across the Kitchen Table” Sally presents her poems as gifts to the readers. It’s personal and intimate and gives us the feeling that there is far more than Sally intends to share with us as we turn the pages.

“The Art of Remembering,” is the first introduction to her mother. The inspiration for this poem was a photograph of her mother at age 11, taken in England in 1927. This is the beginning of a thread of memories of her mother that Sally weaves through the entire book. And, there are other family members we meet as we continue reading.

The fact that the memories and reflections are not in chronological time is refreshing. Memories are like that. They come and they go, like waves on the seashore. They wash over us in layers and are timeless.

“Penny Candy,” is a poem that many senior citizens today will love. In this poem, Sally is a small child who walks with her grandfather to a candy store. The image that is so memorable is that final line when she takes the

“small brown bag filled with love,” in her hands.

In the poem, “Solace,” Sally recounts the final days of her mother’s life. Several more poems focus on her relationship with her mother, Kathleen, such as “A Daughter’s Good Bye.” This thread of goodbyes weaves through the poems as we come near the end of her mother’s life.

A memorable poem is a premonition that Sally has when she lost her wedding ring one week before her husband died.

As the book ends, Sally shares her days of contemplation and loneliness after her husband’s death. This is so relevant as most women will live longer than their husbands and find themselves living alone in their final years.

In particular, she found solace in music. Sally shares two pieces of music that comforted her.

Find Peonies in Winter at Amazon.