If The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce charmed you, as it did me, I believe you’ll be curious about the rest of the story. Joyce tells us that this is not so much a sequel, but rather a companion book. The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is the story of the woman waiting at the end of Harold’s journey. What compels the story forward is whether he gets to her before it’s too late.
You see, Queenie Hennessy is dying and lives in a hospice run by nuns—a hospice that is surprisingly full of life. The residents and their caregivers demonstrate joy, affection, and tender friendship. Even a little hope at times.
Throughout the book, Queenie writes to Harold to confess her guilt over something that happened many years earlier–guilt that compelled her to leave without a word.
Within her writings–transcribed by a mysterious nun with a typewriter–are contained many touching life lessons. And because Queenie is at the end of her life, I think we should listen. I’ve shared a few here.
On finding happiness:
“Don’t try to see ahead to the nice bits. Don’t try to see ahead to the end. Stay with the present, even if it is not so good. And consider how far you’ve already come.”
“Sometimes, Harold, the way forward takes you by surprise. You try to force something in the familiar direction and discover that what it needs is to move in a different dimension. The way forward is not forward, but off to one side, in a place you have not noticed before.”
“It is no good looking ahead to the end. It is no good thinking about how life will get better once you have a new television or a new job. You must stop hoping for change. You must simply be it.”
“We write ourselves certain parts and then keep playing them as if we have no choice. But a tardy person can become a punctual one, if she chooses. You don’t have to keep being the thing you have become. It is never too late.”
“So you see, people aren’t really the straightforward things we think they are. Even the villains in a story can turn round and surprise us.”
“Sometimes you can love something not because you instinctively connect with it but because another person does, and keeping their things in your heart takes you back to them.”
“We expect our happiness to come with a sign and bells, but it doesn’t. I loved you and you didn’t know. I loved you and that was enough.”
On death, dying, and loss:
“When a thing is taken away, you see more clearly what it brought to your life.”
“That’s the bugger with funerals,” said Finty. “All those nice people singing songs you like and saying stuff about how good you were and you’re not even there. I’d rather hear it now.”
“Things don’t so much end as disappear. They don’t so much begin as turn up. You think there will be a time to say goodbye, but people have often gone before you know about it. And I don’t just mean the dying.”
“Because if you picture other people like you, you will no longer be alone. And when you share, you see that your own sorrow is not so big or special. You are only another person feeling sad, and soon it will pass and you will be another person, feeling happy. It takes the sting out of life, I find, when you realize you are not alone.”
“I accepted that sometimes you cannot clear the past completely. You must live alongside your sorrow.”
If you are in the mood for sweet, quiet book with lots of heart, or if you’d like a glimpse into the amount of life present at the end of life, read Queenie’s story. It was worth the journey.