Review: Howard and Esther McIlveen, Would You Know My Name?

Published by Essence Publishing.

It's not very often we get a glimpse into life after death. In fact, the whole dying process is something we typically avoid unless or until the issue comes close to home.

Then the questions become urgent, like that searching song about seeing a loved one in heaven, where Eric Clapton asks, "Would You Know My Name?"

A book has been written in answer to that very question by two unique people who seem, through their own life experiences, to have been given more than average opportunities to investigate and illuminate death. In Would You Know My Name? Howard and Esther McIlveen mix prose, poetry, theology, song lyrics, eulogy and even a poignant letter from two girls in farewell to their deceased father.

The McIlveens have demonstrated in their lives and in their writing an ability to listen. As a result their latest written work is full of meaning.

Howard, in his work as hospital chaplain and workshop leader, deals constantly with death and dying and Esther, a local newspaper columnist, has met many people of differing life experiences through her writing career.

The McIlveens have listened with care to persons of all ages with differing religious and cultural backgrounds and have drawn together for us the compelling passion of life and people's courage to face death with hope.

This recently published book came to me as, in the span of just one week, I have been at a bedside at Children's Hospital with the family of a toddler hit by a car and also called upon by another family for sudden funeral services. Such events catch up our day-to-day existence on a chaotic whirlwind.

At one time in history, my job description, that of a pastor, was described as that of one helping people "prepare for a good death." To me that has a whole lot to do with looking at how one lives now, in light of death as a real and inevitable passage. I found the story part of this book especially quenching. Enough information-overload! News data on tragedies from around the world come pouring in unyieldingly. To cope we begin to tune it all out.

Reading these narratives will enable you to feel again, make you sensitized in people facing tremendously difficult times…

…People like little Nathan Keddie and his family who bravely endured four kidney transplants in his battle with disease.

Or sharing Ruby's indomitable sense of humour even while confined in a wheelchair through her final years.

Then there's the turn-about story of John Todd fearfully struggling for hope as an orphan and then ministering hope from the lessons he had learned; the inspiring neighbourliness of Gulshan Ahmed who might best be described as "authentic," in everything she did — and even in how she died ("better to live your life facing death, rather than suddenly trying to do it at the end").

Woven into all this is the element of wise counsel, which offers hope in the very midst of death. This book is to be commended as a truthful, compassionate aid for those who grieve, helping us process our losses healthfully — one of the greatest lessons in life.

As you read, may love mixed with faith be yours. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.

Rev. Ken Kutney, Steveston Christian Church.

Would You Know My Name? is published by Essence Publishing, is available at Regent College Bookstore and through the authors, Howard and Esther McIlveen – 604-272-1571.