A Journey of Loss and Losing
Working it Out: A Journey of Love, Loss, and Hope, by Abby Rike. Faithwords, 274 pp.
Let me just say this: reviewing memoirs is always more difficult than fiction. In fiction, you’re reviewing a story, a set of ideas and characters that are generally contrived out of thin air. In memoirs, you are reviewing the way that someone recounts actual life events. It’s important to make the distinction: a memoir reviewer does not review the story, but rather the way that the story is told.
I tend to imagine the course of a book as I read it. I’ve read enough stories to understand general plot flow. On the one hand, this may be what opened my mind to thinking I’d be decent at criticism. On the other, I’m rarely surprised by a story. That being said, the surprises that do catch me off guard tend to blow my mind.
In approaching Abby Rike’s Working It Out, I knew two things about the book. I knew that she had undergone immense tragedy in her life–both from reading the first paragraph and from the subtitle “Love, Loss, and Hope.” I also knew that she was a contest on The Biggest Loser. What I then anticipated was the transition from one to the other.
Rike’s tragedy is unfathomable: in the course of minutes, she lost her husband, her five-year-old daughter and her two-week-old son in a devastating car wreck. By all accounts, she should have been with them. They were an inseparable family. The only reason she is alive today is because she was having chest pains and decided to go to the emergency room. Her husband was taking the kids to an open gym.
Most of the book is centered on the personal aftermath of this:
I didn’t follow the usual stages of the grieving process. I never got the benefit of denial or shock. I attribute my lucidity from the beginning to my faith, to God’s grace. I kept a sense of humor and often made jokes that may have made some people uncomfortable. If I heard about someone with breast cancer or an incurable disease, I’d wonder why it couldn’t be me. I would not have sought treatment had I found out I had cancer. At that point, it didn’t matter whether I lived or died; I was just taking up space.
Her decision to apply for The Biggest Loser came out of this grief. Until this point, she hadn’t mentioned her weight. Her body image was never a focus for her. What she was searching for had nothing to do with the scale. She wanted to live a life drastically different from any that she had previously known.
[About her mother and her] We both had our reservations (to say the least) about baring not only my body but my soul to the world. She knew how modest and private I was, but I needed to do something drastic to keep from succumbing to seclusion and despair.
At her audition, sitting around a table, she shared her story within the one-minute time limit. “My name is Abby. I am thirty-four years old. I normally don’t introduce myself this way, but my husband and two children were killed in a car accident two and a half years ago. I decided very early on that I was going to live. And now I want to live better.”
So begins the start to her new life. She made it onto the eighth season of the show, then returned for the finale to achieve her goal of a 100-pound weight loss. And, in addition to her personal success, she inspired thousands with her willingness to continue on through struggle.
But I didn’t see the connection. These are essentially two stories: one the story of losing her family, the other the story of her overcoming her weight. I was expecting the tragedy to cause her to overeat. Because nothing about the former story would suggest that she was overweight or had any control issue with food, I expected this devastation to cause her to lose control over herself and her weight. Not so. The first indication we get that she may have been overweight is when she steps on the scale on her first day at the ranch and the numbers “247” stare back at her.
And yet, the rest of the book is devoted to overcoming issues with weight. It seems, almost, that once she was able to find a new outlet, she delved wholly into that.
Rike’s story is certainly inspiring, but it’s a bit confusing to read on the page. She has overcome two great feats, both of which are daily challenges. But she summarizes the lessons she learned well.
In order to become truly healthy, in all areas of your life, you are changed. It’s not that you change your personality; you do however become the best version of yourself. You get to know yourself on a deeper level by shedding former self-truths and ultimately creating new ones. On some level, everyone wanting to get healthy and make a life change wants more from life, but in order to get a different result, we have to do something different. The dreaded “change” word. Change is scary, but ask yourself this, “If I had to live the rest of my life just as I am now, would I have lived a full life?” If your answer is “No,” then not changing is far scarier.
Working It Out, is available in paperback, begun Tuesday, May 1.