Sue Oakey-Baker feels like she's walking around town naked.
That's understandable. With the release of her memoir,
Finding Jim, in early September, she's put it all out in the open — her relationships, vulnerabilities and deepest emotions. And yet, Oakey-Baker doesn't need to worry. She's opened herself up for the world to see, and what we see is a thoughtful, caring person, with a story from which the rest of us can learn.
In 1999, two years after she married renowned mountain climber Jim Haberl, the first Canadian to summit K2, Oakey-Baker was woken in the middle of the night with the news that he'd been killed in an avalanche. Her memoir tells the story of her relationship with Jim, and the intense grief she felt after his death. It is the story of her grieving process, of learning to accept that he was really gone and opening her heart to love again.
This is a story of love and loss, of healing and acceptance. It is a story of accepting one's vulnerabilities, and realizing that it is those vulnerabilities that connect us. It is also a travel story, full of vibrant descriptions of adventure and wonder.
Woven throughout the book are descriptions of her travels, with Jim and without. As many a Whistler reader will relate to, she found solace in the outdoors. After Jim's death, she retraces their steps together — from the spot he was killed in Alaska, to Haida Gwaii, to Kilimanjaro — literally looking for a sign that he was still there. Eventually, as she begins to heal, she takes herself to Italy and France to "do what's best for Sue." Each of the stories of adventure and travel comes to life under Oakey-Baker's capable hand. Beautiful descriptions add to the story of her healing, and also provide a relief from the emotional depth of the book.
At first, Oakey-Baker refuses to accept the reality of Jim's death. She continues to search for a sign that he is still alive. In much the same way that she tried to be perfect to win the love of those around her, she tries to grieve "properly," hoping that by doing so, she can bring Jim back, and keep the love of those who remain. As she learns to accept that Jim really isn't coming back, and that her friends will still love her even if she falls apart, she begins to take baby steps forward.
The depth of emotion Oakey-Baker felt and shares with the reader is intense. However, there is a note of hope running through the entire book, even when the author is at her darkest moments. Oakey-Baker was surrounded by loving friends and family who supported her during her struggle. We never get dragged down too deeply. We know she'll find her way.
Readers who enjoy memoir, tales with emotional depth, and travel stories will enjoy this book. Many will connect with Oakey-Baker's emotions. That's what makes this book an important read. As she says, we learn more about each other through our vulnerabilities than our strengths. Death is the only constant in life, and while not in any way a how-to book, Finding Jim gives a great example of how someone, flawed like the rest of us, managed to come through heartbreak and emerge in one piece.
Finding Jim' s launch will take place as part of the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival on Oct. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Millennium Place.