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Josephine Walden
The Ordeal: A Journey from Misfortune, Illness and Betrayal to Truth
After two major floods with their financial, physical, and emotional ramifications, a car accident, several dangerous encounters while traveling and family deaths, I spiraled down into a life-changing, nursing-career ending illness. Diagnosis: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a little understood illness at the time. A single mom, I struggled to work but the symptoms slowly overtook me: debilitating fatigue, flu-like symptoms, a pre-leukemic blood dyscrasia and a slow loss of memory. Then a beloved sister and I inherited two estates. She took care of probate. As I descended into the throes of the illness, she invited me to stay with her and her husband. While there, fun times were punctuated by unpleasant encounters and accusations of family neglect and other short comings. Unable to respond due to memory loss and slow thought processes, I kept silent. As probate progressed, my daughter began to warn me about my sister’s behavior in dealing with the probate issues. I couldn’t comprehend her concerns as I trusted my sister implicitly. I was blissfully unaware of game playing, creative manipulations, plots, thefts and acts of revenge. Finally, there was some improvement and I returned to work. That attempt failed after only four months. With trepidation I eventually returned to my sister’s due to her persistent coaxing. While there, she did all she could to make me physically, as well as emotionally, uncomfortable. I left. Once away her behavior became overly hostile and aggressive. She seemed to be a combination of Baby Jane’s sister and Virginia Wolff! My ex-husband, a state policeman, guided me through a two-estate, nine-year ordeal. Julie’s actions would almost financially break me, deprive me of some of my inheritance and cause family members to turn against me. Eventually I had to retain an attorney. He had been a former prosecutor and said it was the worst case he had ever handled. Finally, after trying to deal with her, the attorneys asked me to meet with her. Still ill but with some improvement I pulled myself together. My attempted intervention wasn’t successful. She was evasive, less than honest, accusatory and walked out of the meeting to avoid answering my questions. The lawyers made the decision to hold a judicial inquiry so the judge would know how to rule. Sadly, court would be the next step. In court the findings influenced the judge to put Julie on supervision to finish the probate business and had her escorted from the parental home and out of town by a Sheriff’s Deputy. He followed her to the next town. My lawyer called it “Frontier Justice.” The home was sealed, and contents and home were sold. This final resolution brought peace and financial stability to my life. Estranged family members were reunited with me.
Walden debuts with a harrowing account of her life, wrought with bravery, truth, and grief as she grapples with trauma in her family and the reality of her chronic illness. Josephine, nicknamed Josie, is still grieving the recent deaths of her parents when she is diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome, a complex illness that spirals her into years of memory loss and eventual financial ruin. Josie’s sister, Julie, takes Josie in during her time of crisis, only to later take advantage of her vulnerable state by stealing sentimental treasures left behind by their parents and unfairly taking control of the estate.

Josie’s writing is frank and direct as she describes uncovering secrets and working to regain control over the precious history their parents left behind. She unflinchingly digs into family wounds and traumas while still remaining hopeful: when describing the drawn out emotional and legal battle with her sister, Josie still describes a desire for reconciliation with the sister she once “loved, adored, and looked up to.” Even when her last semblance of family is stripped away by death, illness, and catastrophe, Josie’s words are full of peace as she recounts the most traumatic years of her life.

The accounts read something like personal, unaltered journal entries, particularly in regards to the diagnosis—readers will be able to experience every sentence as a vivid, painful ordeal. For this reason, the memoir’s most impactful turning points are not lingered on or expanded upon with a memoirist’s sense of context, leaving it to readers themselves to assess and digest their significance. Josie reclaims her voice by writing this memoir, in the process uncovering the truth while regaining her health. In the end, she acknowledges her challenges through the lens of grace: “There are tinges of sadness at what actions I had to take… [but] I have never regretted the decisions I made. I am at peace.”

Takeaway: A true story offering hope among pain and familial betrayal.

Great for fans of: Tara Westover’s Educated, Meghan O’Rourke’s The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A