With deftly wielded humor and heart-wrenching candor, Katherine Perreth vividly recounts the myriad physical, mental, emotional and spiritual repercussions stemming from her son’s massive brain hemorrhage. Seven-year-old Ben suffers numerous disabilities and, later, mental health challenges. Yet, love wins. Making Lemonade With Ben is a compelling Cinderella story tracing sixteen years of Ben’s life. It begins with the night a University of Wisconsin Hospital neurosurgeon saved Ben, and follows Ben through young adulthood. Although he encounters years of substantial obstacles, in 2011 his never-say-die cheery attitude and uber-outgoing ways ultimately carry him to Washington D.C. There he represents the Madison Children’s Museum, his employer, at a national award ceremony. Wearing his ankle-foot-orthosis with a smiley face on the back, Ben juggles one-handed everywhere he goes, accomplishing his life goal: “Make humanity smile.” Universal themes of perseverance and compassion encourage readers to contemplate contemporary issues: mental illness treatment, recovery and stigma, the role of intentional employers in the lives of those with disabilities, and the success that can occur when a community values all of her citizens.
I’m 53, and because of mental illness I didn’t think I was going to make it out of my forties. The glorious day I hit 50, I felt I’d really accomplished something – chosen to live long enough to gleefully exit that fifth decade.
At age 51, I reinvented myself by writing Making Lemonade With Ben: The Audacity to Cope (MLWB). At heart, it’s a love story with multiple threads. (The book also includes a cameo appearance by Johnny Depp. When Johnny hugs you at 4:00 in the morning, you know you have a story.)
I love new experiences, and MLWB has led to some oddities: having an Olympic-like medal placed around my neck for “Nonfiction: Inspirational,” and receiving a standing ovation. The latter occurred after Ben and I delivered the 2014 keynote speech for our local National Alliance on Mental Illness annual banquet. My uber-outgoing, cheerfully charming 25-year-old son, robbed of various abilities at age seven, including for a time, his speech, also juggled lemons one-handed on stage. (This had a great deal to do with that standing O I’m thinkin’.) You simply cannot stop Ben from communicating with humanity, pursuing his goal to make everyone smile.
People ask what my family thinks about MLWB. I gave my kids the three censorship options: Trust me, I’m your mother, read the entire manuscript, or read only the sections in which you feature. Ben read it all and offered insights, commentary, and clarifications, making MLWB so much richer. In fact, three of his essays are included, and I gave him the last word. My other two kids chose to read only their appearances, and approved them all – I threatened to stop cooking nightly dinners if they didn’t.
My husband read every draft, adding his voice while encouraging me to keep mine. Whenever I wanted to yank a section because I felt too vulnerable, he talked me out of it. I took his advice except for the chapter entitled “A Woman Is A Woman.” He asked if I could at least blow up some shoes. Ain’t gonna happen.
People often muse that writing the book must have been cathartic. Actually, all the writing I did for years before beginning MLWB was cathartic. Organizing the writing, weaving in black, white and gray humor and my Creative Cathartic Vignettes, putting all that together into one hefty rectangle, was healing. I often say MLWB is my heart and soul in 3D – it may be a broken heart, but it has been soldered.
In conclusion, I’m passionate about removing stigma from mental illness. The sooner we all understand that mental illness is just like physical illness, the better. Mental illness is nothing new, nothing to be ashamed about, is a global concern, and can be a killer – just like physical illness.
Powerful good can happen when a community values all of her citizens through intentional employers and proper mental illness treatment and support. Ben’s life bears witness to that.
Katherine holds UW-Madison Social Work and Sociology degrees, is a reporter for her hometown newspaper, the Middleton Times Tribune, and conducts a class on reminiscence writing. In addition, in her role as administrative staff with WESLI (an ESL school on Madison’s capitol square), she deals in chalk. And paper. Oodles of paper. She recently took an EmptyNester Victory Tour with her husband of 28 years, but hasn’t yet changed the locks on their home. Their three kids can still get in. Her latest books is Making Lemonade with Ben: The Audacity to Cope Drop by to pay her visit at: www.katherineperreth.com.
Katherine is giving away a Kindle Paperwhite!
Terms & Conditions:
- By entering the giveaway, you are confirming you are at least 18 years old.
- This giveaway begins April 21 and ends on July 1, 2014.
- Winners will be contacted via email by August 1, 2014.
- Winner has 72 hours to reply.
Good luck everyone!