Poet and essayist Nina Riggs was just thirty-seven years old when initially diagnosed with breast cancer—one small spot. Within a year, she received the devastating news that her cancer was terminal.
How does a dying person learn to live each day “unattached to outcome”? How does one approach the moments, big and small, with both love and honesty? How does a young mother and wife prepare her two young children and adored husband for a loss that will shape the rest of their lives? How do we want to be remembered?
Exploring motherhood, marriage, friendship, and memory, Nina asks: What makes a meaningful life when one has limited time? “Profound and poignant” (O, The Oprah Magazine), The Bright Hour is about how to make the most of all the days, even the painful ones. It’s about the way literature, especially Nina’s direct ancestor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and her other muse, Montaigne, can be a balm and a form of prayer.
Amazon Editorial Reviews
“This book is carefully, thoughtfully, and beautifully written. I think it should be required reading for the entire human race. Nina Riggs is my hero and after you read this she will be your hero, too.”
—Elin Hilderbrand, New York Times bestselling author of The Identicals
“The Bright Hour is a stunning work, a heart-rending meditation on life—not just how to appreciate it while you’re living it, but how to embrace its end, too. It is this year’s When Breath Becomes Air.”
—Nora Krug, Washington Post
“Beautiful and haunting…a thoughtful and heartbreaking exploration of what makes life meaningful in a person’s remaining days…Buried within this agonizing tale are moments of levity — I laughed out loud many, many times — and flashes of poetry…This book provides a stunning look at that experience and has forever changed my understanding of the illness narrative. It’s a book every doctor and patient should read…It’s hard not to compare The Bright Hour to When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi’s best-selling memoir about his battle with lung cancer. Both were in their late 30s when they discovered they were dying, and both write spare prose with a poignancy that is uncommon. However, Riggs’ book is markedly different in tone and content. It’s more humorous and less philosophical — but equally moving.”
—Matt McCarthy, MD, USA Today (4/4 stars)
“Poet Nina Riggs was only 37, the mother of two young sons, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within a year she had lost her mother to multiple myeloma—and learned her own cancer was terminal as well. Riggs died last February, leaving behind this deeply affecting memoir, a simultaneously heartbreaking and funny account of living with loss and the specter of death. As she lyrically, unflinchingly details her reality, she finds beauty and truth that comfort even amid the crushing sadness.”
—People (Book of the Week)
“Profound and poignant…superb…I put down The Bright Hour a slightly different, and better, person – unbearably sad and also feeling, as Riggs did, ‘the hug of the world.'”
—Kelly Corrigan, O Magazine
“You can read a multitude books about how to die, but Riggs, a dying woman, will show you how to live.”
—New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
“I think every writer is just trying to find the words to say essentially: This is what life feels like. And in this book, Nina Riggs did that—she found the words. And they’re beautiful, and heartbreaking, and transcendent.”
—Cristina Henriquez, critically acclaimed author of The Book of Unknown Americans
“The Bright Hour is filled with life. We are so lucky that in the last months of her life Nina wrote The Bright Hour as a gift—to her family, to her husband, to her children, and also as a gift to us.”
—Alice Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Faithful and The Rules of Magic
“Her memoir is powerful and gripping and also, brilliantly, laugh-out-loud funny—the perfect reminder that every day here is a gift, and that every day is an opportunity to leave an indelible mark on those who you must leave behind.”
“A vivid, immediate dispatch from the front lines of mortality and a record of a life by someone who wasn’t done living yet. But there is nothing maudlin about it…her warm portraits of each of [the members of her closest circle] are a large part of the book’s emotional power. So is something we don’t notice fully until it’s gone: the strength and clarity of Riggs’s voice, which never faded on the page, and which we won’t get to hear again.”
“The antithesis of grim: an irreverent and poignant Baedeker through the country of illness.”
—Wall Street Journal
“This gorgeous chronicle of the last year of her life—brimming with seemingly mundane details about parenting, buying a couch, getting a puppy—is a gentle reminder to cherish each day.”
—Entertainment Weekly (Best New Books)
“Like the bestselling When Breath Becomes Air, the work she left behind is a beautiful testament to the quiet magic of everyday life and making the most of the time we are given, whether it’s spent taking last-minute trips to Paris, wallpapering the mudroom, or reveling in a newly purchased couch. ‘These are the things we all say at the end of book club now: I love you,’ she writes. ‘Of course we do. Why haven’t we been saying that all along?’”
—New York Post (This Week’s Must-Read Books)
“Fans of Paul Kalanithi’s heart-wrenching memoir will enjoy this poignant story about how a grown woman—who’s also a direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson—spends her last days after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.”
“A luminous, heartbreaking symphony of wit, wisdom, pain, parenting, and perseverance against insurmountable odds.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Moving and insightful…Riggs writes with humor; the memoir is rife with witty one-liners and musings on the joys and challenges of mothering and observations on the importance of loving relationships…In this tender memoir Riggs displays a keen awareness of and reverence for all the moments of life—both the light, and the dark, ‘the cruel, and the beautiful.’”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Riggs reminds us that we are all in this world until we leave it; the gallows humor surrounding her mother’s funeral will make readers howl guiltily but appreciatively. Whether confronting disease or not, everyone should read this beautifully crafted book as it imbues life and loved ones with a particularly transcendent glow.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
“Author Nina Riggs was 37, the mother of two young sons, and married to her best friend when she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. This is the story of how she faced the unthinkable with humanity and most of all with love.”
“Inspired by the unforgettable New York Times Modern Love column, this memoir by a young mother with terminal cancer is touching and wickedly funny.”
—Glamour Magazine (The Six Juiciest Summer Reads)
“Through this warmhearted memoir, Riggs writes her way to accepting her own death and the uncertainty that follows it. The Bright Hour is an introspective, well-considered tribute to life. As Riggs’ famed ancestor Emerson writes, ‘That is morning; to cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body and to become as large as the World.'”
“In this memoir, published posthumously, Nina Riggs asks: How do you make life meaningful when you know your time is limited? With humor and honesty, The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying chronicles Riggs’s diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer and the moments shared with her school-age sons and her husband before her death at age 39.”
—Real Simple (Five Books That Won’t Disappoint)
“A beautiful gift…A heartrending reminder of life’s worthiness from the descendent of Ralph Waldo Emerson, this is a beautiful time-capsule of Riggs’ experiences.”
—Read it Forward (Best of May Selection)
“Poignant…For anyone looking for wise words on the subject of cancer—this is your book, but it also contains so much more. Riggs was the great-great-great-granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and there is a running theme throughout the book about the huge importance of art and the humanity it can impart.”
—Bookish (Must Read Nonfiction for Summer Selection)
“It’s a tearjerker, but if you enjoyed When Breath Becomes Air, this book will hit the same emotional spots.”
“Memoirs of serious illness are haunted by the twin specters of death and self-help; whether ending in remission or posthumous sainthood, they suffer from the soft bigotry of the critic-proof. Riggs, who died at 39, a month after finishing this book, emulated entirely different writers, from Cheryl Strayed to essayists like Michel de Montaigne and her ancestor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Her story was driven not just by her dark pursuer, breast cancer, but also by lives lived and books read. Read it for its insights, not its subject.”
“With The Bright Hour, Riggs leaves behind a literary legacy that captures both her incredible talent and her unwavering love for her family…Her lyrical, honest prose immerses the reader in her world — you feel the fear, the despair, the joy…Riggs perfectly captures the strange, sometimes otherworldly feeling experience of cancer treatment…But though one might expect a tome of sadness and despair from a writer with only months left to live, Riggs fills her memoir with vivid, messy, beautiful life. The book illustrates how Riggs’ sense of humor never falters…Riggs seamlessly integrates both Emerson’s and Montaigne’s thoughts on life, death and health, adding a richness to her own experience.”
—Greensboro News & Record
“Wry and tender.”
—Atlanta Journal Constitution
“Gorgeous and brave, Nina Riggs’s memoir explodes with life and insight even amid ruin – with lines so poetic they knocked the wind out of me. It’s heartbreaking, funny, clear-eyed, and entirely devoid of cliché. This book is her hard-won treasure, and ours.”
“An amazing book.”
—Katie Couric, OZY
“How a woman can have this much emotional clarity and narrative power while fighting for her life should astonish every last one of us. Magical. Unforgettable.”
—Kelly Corrigan, New York Times bestselling author of The Middle Place and Glitter and Glue
“Nina Riggs could have written a memoir about dying. Instead, she has given us a book exploding with life. Every page of The Bright Hour (“bright” the operative word here) is filled with the mysterious, messy, funny, heartbreaking stuff that only happens in the most loving of families. Clearly, hers is one.
“Writing with frank and exquisite honesty and a striking absence of sentimentality or self-pity in the final days of a terminal struggle, she explores everything from her children’s choice of Halloween costumes and her own, of a new sofa, to the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Montaigne. Though no doubt challenged by constant physical depletion and grief—a fact of her illness she chooses not to dwell on—Riggs emerges as a character whose ultimate victory will not take the form of beating cancer, but of refusing to allow cancer to destroy her life-embracing spirit. As she allows us into her world of wig shopping and heart to heart conversations with her boys, it becomes impossible not to love this woman (also her quirky, tenderly rendered sons, and her quietly suffering husband, whose future remarriage she allows herself to envision).
“The tragedy of Riggs’s illness and impending death hangs over every page, but in the end, this is a book not about crushing loss but about the richness of love and its power to uplift and sustain us. What a gift she has given to her family, and to any reader of this beautiful book.”
—Joyce Maynard, New York Times bestselling author of Under the Influence, At Home in the World, and Labor Day
“Nina Riggs writes gorgeously and with astonishing clarity about her own terminal illness, about losing her mother, about her marriage and her children, about books that have guided her, and also about the often comical challenges of daily life as a busy parent. Riggs never shies away from describing the terrible sadness and messiness of her own dying, but also manages to suffuse this book with a miraculous blend of light and joy. This is an emotional journey told with raw honesty and also a sly sense of humor.
“The Bright Hour is an instant classic that deserves to be read by everyone who loved When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi and Being Mortal by Atul Guwande. Like those, here is a book about dying that has powerful lessons for everyone about how to live.”
—Will Schwalbe, New York Times bestselling author of The End of Your Life Bookclub and Books For Living
“Once I started this book, I couldn’t stop reading. Profound, absorbing, and often even funny, Nina Riggs’s memoir of living and dying is a meditation on life, family, and how to cram every day of our existence with what we love—no matter how much time we have left. Brilliant and illuminating.”
—Gretchen Rubin, New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before
Amazon Reader Review
Reading a beautiful memoir about a person who is facing imminent death is not light reading, especially when you know that the author does not live to see the publication of her book. However, reading a stunning book with their insightful, witty, and compassionate views of what it takes to be a friend, a daughter, a mother, a wife, how to keep living even when in great pain, and how to just care, knowing that your days are truly numbered is beyond eye-opening. It is hard to comprehend how Nina Riggs wrote THE BRIGHT HOUR: A MEMOIR OF LIVING AND DYING considering what she faced. When did she do it? Between her mother dying of cancer shortly before she did, taking care of two young children, enduring painful treatment, going on trips with her family? Her stamina is astounding.
While her future, or lack of one, is unbearable, and casts a shadow over the book, she embraces life. There is so much to learn about love and about how having a sense of humor can get you through the toughest of times.
A descendent of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Riggs, feels her great-great-great grandfather with her as she is writing. She feels him when she takes a walk in the woods. She feels him when she visits her family’s vacation home that her great-grandfather built. His words are shared throughout the book and resonate with the reader like a song playing on a loop in your head.
“[Nature] always speaks of Spirit. It suggests the absolute. It is a perpetual effect. It is a great shadow pointing always to the sun behind us…. The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship.”
Funny. Riggs admits to her mother that she is not a nature fan after a week at overnight camp. Her devotion comes by way of reading a good book. Truth be told, she didn’t connect with Emerson either, as a young girl. While a college student, walking in the woods, the bond was made.
She rereads Montaigne, who clearly has had a profound impact on her all of her life, sharing this knowledge with her mother and her husband, and imparting his wisdom with her boys. A writer who connects her with Emerson.
Memoir writers are a lot like teachers. Riggs guides us through her life, showing us many bumps as well as highlights, no preaching, a textbook not necessary. She carefully demonstrates how living with an incurable illness can be done with grace, a touch of humor, and a whole lot of honesty. The test at the end is that you did your best. This is how you will be remembered.