Do They Have Telephones Up in Heaven?
by R. R. Pravin

"To the children who are fighting every day for a better tomorrow
I hope you know we are all right here by your side
fighting alongside you hoping for a better tomorrow."

This book begins with a forward, a “Letter to Readers,” and then is followed by 36 poems and one song related to children on a pediatric oncology and complex care unit where the author was a resident. He has an extensive history of working with children and their families, and having lost his own father when he was 15, relates to these children who are sick and dying. The poems, as well as a song he wrote to raise funds for a charity, are indicative of the type of caring work he has provided over the years.

Each poem is followed by a section entitled “Inspiration,” which offers insight into the meaning of each work. Some of the inspirations honor a specific child or family while others offer a broader look at grief. While the themes are varied—such as nature and flowers, God, parents and families, togetherness, heaven, cathedrals, and time—they all relate to life and living and death and dying. Some of the most beautiful lines include: “Do they have telephones up in heaven/ Where I can make a long distance call”; “I remember running with you/ In fields of purple flowers”; and “Hope we meet/ One day/ Where the sun/ Meets the sea.” Other poems include the jolting, sad reality of the physical pain: “Cry myself to sleep/ Till the pain is gone/ Or at least till the morphine kicks in.” There is also a poem titled with the words which when heard on the intercom bring fear to everyone: “Code Blue.”

The author is able to write from the standpoint of the young patients, the children as spirits who have passed, their family members, and other loved ones, as well as his own process. One powerful letter regarding sadness was actually written by a child as an assignment, and the doctor responds with his own letter. A poem about the “colours coming back from my grey world” is a beautiful look at remission, and a poem about a young woman whose fiancé abandoned her is a teary look at ongoing losses, not just the loss regarding the illness. He is able to capture the horror of how unfair it is for children to have to go through cancer and the treatments.

Because of the intense feelings that may be evoked by this passionate and compassionate work, readers may find themselves delving into their own sorrows and losses, of healing and of death, and of hope and transcendence. This is not a work to be read quickly; it is to be perused slowly and digested over time so that the reader can immerse into the grief and healing that can come from such sorrow. While it is written about the specific losses of children with cancer, the depth of the pain can be felt by anyone reading this work—no matter if they are grieving for their own losses or just reading because of wanting to connect with the in-depth poems of love and loss. The only concerns regarding his writing are about the focus on the outdated five stages of grief and a few editing errors. Otherwise, be prepared to be touched by this work.

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