Steph Catudal’s Memoir Is Actually Two Books Woven Together


    Here’s a little secret about Steph Catudal’s memoir, “Everything All at Once,” which chronicles her husband’s harrowing skirmish with lung cancer in 2020: The book’s even-numbered chapters were written years ago, long before Tommy Rivers Puzey, Catudal’s ultramarathon-running spouse, developed a hacking cough that gave her a bone-chilling sense of déjà vu. It had to be Covid-19, right? Wrong.

    Those even-numbered chapters are sections from Catudal’s unpublished memoir about losing her father to lung cancer when she was 14. He had the same cough.

    “You never forget a sound like that,” she writes. “The kind that tears at your throat, the kind that sputters and drowns and leaves you gasping for breath on dry land.”

    Catudal finished her first manuscript in 2019, but it felt incomplete in a way she couldn’t quite put her finger on. In a phone interview, she said, “I named the book ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ because I thought I was leaving my grief behind. Now I think it’s so funny that I thought grief was something that could be left.”

    Puzey’s diagnosis led to long hospitalizations, including 101 days in intensive care. Catudal developed a routine: She spent mornings by her husband’s side — “I was lucky enough to be able to be in the hospital during the pandemic” — and then crept away for solo writing time over lunch and a glass of wine. North Italia in Phoenix was a favorite restaurant (“obviously very quarantined and in a corner all by myself”) but a park bench would do in a pinch. After addressing diary-like entries to her husband, mingling worry with everyday family memories involving their three daughters — “Remember when you cut Iris’s bangs so short we weren’t sure if she looked like Harper Lee or a barista from Portland?” — Catudal returned to Puzey.

    “I wasn’t able to write when I was with him,” Catudal said. “I was very aware that I wanted to be present with him every moment that I had.”

    Leapfrogging over many obstacles and shamelessly spilling a spoiler: Puzey survived. These days he wakes up early, laces up his running shoes and takes a walk. “He just doesn’t stop, and I think that’s why he’s alive,” Catudal said. She has a fresh perspective on grief — “It’s unending and that’s OK” — and a new appreciation for positive thinking (but not the toxic/annoying kind).

    “When my husband got sick, I came to realize I could hope without having an expectation for an outcome,” Catudal said. “Hope was a current of love that carried me through that dark time.”

    Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”

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