Veteran Catholic author Amy Welborn’s
memoir of her journey to Sicily with her young sons and daughter after the sudden death of her husband, Michael Dubruiel
, involves timeless themes – recovery from a tragic loss, confronting doubt at a time when one’s faith is most tested, and learning from the experiences of earlier generations of believers. She embarks upon this larger journey while visiting a land rich with Catholic heritage as well as a more recent devotion – St. Padre Pio is especially beloved among many Sicilians.
The walls in this place are almost bare, which doesn’t help the atmosphere. What little is up there is randomly scattered, askew, and all religious, which does. Help, that is. A picture of John Paul II in the front room where the boys are sleeping in a pull-out and I’m sitting on a twin bed under the open window, a San Damiano cross in the bedroom where Katie’s sleeping. Padre Pio in the kitchen. They’re all here. Always, wherever I go, it seems.
What emerges from Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope
is a deeply moving, profound, and personal account of her mourning, with the communion of saints an ever-present theme. But the book is more than just a reflection on grief – Welborn also makes you want to hop on a plane to Sicily through her descriptions of the beautiful landscapes and a host of characters she meets during her travels, and infuses humor and practicality into the day-to-day challenges of traveling in a new land with small children in tow.
The book progresses as a roughly chronological account of the family’s travels through Sicily, with vivid portraits of the various historical sites, gelato vendors, and swimming adventures in the Mediterranean. Readers will want to learn more about this region of Italy, and Welborn features photos from her trip on her travel blog that help bring her descriptions to life.
At the same time, she introduces us to her husband – his wry sense of humor, the immense depth of his faith, and the joy he derived from his life as a father and husband. These glimpses into their life together make her descriptions of loss all the more wrenching. Rather than sermonize, she shares an authentic portrayal of the effects this loss had on her faith and her hope for a reunion with Michael one day in Christ.
This book rewards a second and third reading, as you discover new details about the places and experiences from their travels and pick up on new turns of phrase she employs to capture every moment. It is an uncommon combination – travelogue, family history, memoir of grief. But the author brings together these disparate themes into a story that is poignant and real. Highly recommended.
(Disclaimer: I had the honor of reading parts of the manuscript before their publication, as the author is a personal friend.)