Written with clarity and grace, this memoir of an adolescent boy’s four-year struggle with leukemia, his untimely death at sixteen, and the aftermath is presented from three perspectives. Using journals and recollection, Noe’s father Phil Wolfson recalls the events chronologically. His son’s chemotherapy journal offers a stricken teenager’s private view of illness, his wrestling with such enormous stress while striving to live within the framework of “normal” expectations for adolescence. The third perspective derives from the author’s realization that his intimate relationship with Noe continues after death. Channeling his son’s spirit, the author writes in his place, sharing with readers a near-adult view of living with illness and losing the battle to survive it.
Noe reveals the inner world of familial love and discord, Noe’s own remarkable coping, and the extraordinary stress Noe’s illness had on his younger brother. It describes the quest for emotional and spiritual support through therapy, contact with renowned alternative healers, and the use of the drug MDMA for enhancing relationships. With poignant descriptions of an assisted dying process, Noe moves beyond a model of bereavement to offer a reminder of love’s transcendence.
“From the time I started to read this book, I wanted to write about it. I made notes all over the margins with what I hoped would be useful things to say. Now that I am writing, I feel that I will never be able to do justice to this remarkable book. I will try, in the hope that many other people will discover it and experience its gritty, deeply felt, and hard-won wisdom.
Phil Wolfson’s Noe describes the experience of a family facing the serious illness and eventual death of Noah, their sixteen-year-old son. The book is woven from a rich tapestry of voices, from the author’s journals, Noah’s chemotherapy diaries, and the convincingly channeled voice of the boy who has died... Life is the hero celebrated in this book, an experience of inherent value whose meaning is sufficient onto itself, requiring no metaphysical gloss, no transcendent striving. We experience Noah struggling heroically to fight the illness and assert his claim to life, pushing himself into breathtaking feats of physical prowess before the relapse occurs, the treatment begins again and he has to struggle back through the overwhelming exhaustion and depletion of the radiation. This is the life force speaking for itself, refusing to surrender until the last possibility of struggle has been exhausted. There is an epic quality to this fight against all odds, on the boy’s part and that of his family; it is the kind of epic that arises from ordinary life pushed to its extremes while remaining recognizably human." —Tikkun Magazine
“There is no doubt Phil Wolfson’s poignant and thoughtful Noe will break your heart. There is also no question Noe will strengthen your heart, as well as deepen your sensitivity and widen your range of emotions. A seasoned psychiatrist, Wolfson shares, through unbroken honesty and thoughtful prose, the toughest story a parent could tell. Yet out of the depths of his family’s tragedy, Wolfson enriches our emotional knowledge, better equipping us for the blows, large and small, sure to befall us all.”
—Franz Wisner, author of the New York Times best-selling Honeymoon with My Brother and How the World Makes Love
“A sensitive chronicle of the vagaries of love and the struggle to stay clear and present despite great stress and difficulty. Noe can serve as a guide to those who are living through overwhelming personal crises, facing their own or a beloved’s death. It charts the possibilities for coming apart, staying together, and the choices that will have to be made during and after a great illness. A terrific book for fathers building a new culture of connection with their children.”
—Jerry Jampolsky, MD, founder of The Center for Attitudinal Healing and author of Love Is Letting Go of Fear
“Phil Wolfson has beautifully written a loving threnody to his son, Noah, who died young, much too young, of cancer. The work takes us deep into the sorrow and courage that lies in the most tender and vulnerable recesses of the human heart, until, finally, we are there, with Noah, walking alongside him on his via dolorosa. And we come to understand that we are walking with Wolfson and his family as well and, ultimately, with each other, sharing the grief that life brings us, and that the music of this book, this healing paean, is helping us along our way.”
—Lew Carlino, director and screenwriter of Resurrection and The Great Santini
“My friend Phil Wolfson and I belong to that sorrowful fellowship of parents whose children have died. In this book of great courage, he shares the harrowing journey of his family as they endure the four-year ordeal of their teenage son succumbing to leukemia. Blending Noah’s rueful journal notes as he anticipates his life’s ending with Phil’s tender descriptions of an exuberant youthful life amidst the terrible despair of the helpless parents—this story is a heart-opening testament to the power of the spirit of love.”
—Ralph Metzner, PhD, author of The Well of Remembrance and The Unfolding Self
“We lived this story with the Wolfson family and knew intimately of their pain, struggle, and loss, and their simultaneous commitment to love and sanity. They were courageous in their use of alternative methods to explore and heal mind and heart, and that story is told in Noe as an offering to others to take risks to find new truths. Noah’s death is still a terrible loss to all of us—he was an exceptional young man. Noe reveals him to you in hopes of helping you on your own life’s bittersweet path.”
—Sasha and Ann Shulgin, authors of Pihkal and Tihkal
“This extraordinary memoir and moving story about losing a child to leukemia offers many provocative insights about how we raise our children, deal with death, and create the communities that support us in times of crisis.”
—Judy Norsigian, co-author of Our Bodies, Ourselves