Friday, July 31, 2009

Jantsen's Gift by Pam Cope

Nine years ago, Pam Cope owned a cozy hair salon in the tiny town of Neosho, Missouri, and her life revolved around her son's baseball games, her daughter's dance lessons, and family trips to places like Disney World. She had never been out of the country, nor had she any desire to travel far from home.

Then, on June 16th, 1999, her life changed forever with the death of her 15-year-old son from an undiagnosed heart ailment.

Needing to get as far away as possible from everything that reminded her of her loss, she accepted a friend's invitation to travel to Vietnam, and, from the moment she stepped off the plane, everything she had been feeling since her son's death began to shift. By the time she returned home, she had a new mission: to use her pain to change the world, one small step at a time, one child at a time. Today, she is the mother of two children adopted from Vietnam. More than that, she and her husband have created a foundation called "Touch A Life," dedicated to helping desperate children in countries as far-flung as Vietnam, Cambodia and Ghana.

Pam Cope's story is on one level a moving, personal account of loss and recovery, but on a deeper level, it offers inspiration to anyone who has ever suffered great personal tragedy or those of us who dream about making a difference in the world.
Hachette Book Group

Wow! Wow! Wow! That is how I felt about this novel. It touched me so deeply, and when I finished I had "that feeling" in my chest. The feeling of completeness and hope and a bit of yearning for more.

Pam Cope was a woman that those on the outside thought had it all. She grew up in a wonderful family, married a wonderful man, and had wonderful children -a boy and a girl-one adopted. However, on the inside she always felt like her life wasn't complete. She could never quite place it, and felt guilty that her "perfect" life wasn't enough.

Fast forward several years and perfection turns to tragedy. Pam's son Jantsen dies suddenly from an unrealized heart defect. This part of the novel is told with such clarity and reflection of the incidence that I sobbed. I felt my heart breaking while reading it. I am not exaggerating when I say it made me feel like my heart was ripped to shreds. A couple of years ago my son was sick and I thought he had died in my living room (it was only a febrile seizure, but I didn't know at the time). Those moments of my life were the scariest and the most traumatic thing that had ever happened to me. While reading this section of Pam's novel I was taken back to that time. I felt it all over again and I wept for her and for the fear and pain I had felt in my past. I kept thinking that she had that coupled with sadness and the actual loss of a son. I can't even fathom it. When she spoke of her depression and not wanting to go on I was feeling it with her while reading.

Unable to cope with the loss of her son over the holidays Pam decided to travel to Vietnam. She had been interested since friends had adopted a child from the country and thought it would be a chance to get away from the sadness. She also had money from a trust set up after Jantsen's death that she wanted to donate to a worthy cause and thought this might be it. Pam, her husband Randy and her daughter Crista made the trip that changed their lives in November 2000.

This trip to Vietnam changed the Cope family forever. In this trip Pam found the piece of herself that had been missing and the family found a son to bring home and love.

The rest of the novel focuses on the family's different journeys to improve the lives of children in other countries. They travel to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Ghana. They develop homes, education centers,medical treatment and safety for hundreds of children. Children sold into slavery, children orphaned by poverty and illness, and children who feel life has nothing to offer them. It is a touching story of what faith and asking for help can do. They adopt another daughter along the way and many friends become involved in the foundation they developed and others adopt children.

Each chapter after Jantsen's death begins with a short letter to him from Pam. As the novel progresses you can see the growth she has gone through. You don't see the sadness completely leave and she never stops loving or missing him, but she picks herself back up and lives again through his memory.

This isn't to suggest that the trip to Vietnam took away all the depression and longing for her son. This was a long process. It involved a hospitalization for her depression, and a confrontation with her faith. In this novel, Pam Cope realizes that although she has attended and been active in church she has never really known God and begins an actual relationship with him. Her faith in God led her through many difficult days.

Jantsen's Gift tells of Pam's life, but it also provides facts about the lives of the children she is helping and the states of their countries. It was very educational.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Warning: when you are done reading you will begin to question what you are doing in your life to help the less fortunate. You may even want to start planning your first trip abroad.

For more information on Pam's foundation Touch A Life please visit


  1. What a great review! I cant wait to get to this one! :) Every time I go yto Honduras and work with the kids there I come back and ask myself that very question.... its a hard transition when I see all we have here and how little they have there and I ask myself - what can I do more?

  2. Yes, wonderful review. It is amazing the good just one dedicated person can do. I am going to put this book on my long reserve list at the library.
    mtakala1 AT yahoo DOT com

  3. This review and thinking about the content of this book gave me a little chill...shivers literally ran up and down my spine!

    I really MUST read this book, and your review has totally enticed me to do just that! Thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. This sounds like a very inspiring book, and it is now on my to be read list. I am especially interested in reading Pam's story because I live in Little Saigon, located in Southern California, which is the largest population of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam. I would love to gain more insight into the country of Vietnam through this lady's experiences.

    saemmerson at yahoo dot com

    Sarah Emmerson

  5. An amazing review of an amazing book.

    I think everyone should read this!

  6. Ok, so I HAVE to have this book!! This sounds like a very inspirational book. I used to work with the cardiac kids at the hospital before I started teaching full time. I have seen some of the grief that these parents experience. Thankfully I've never had to personally deal with a loss such as this. I think its wonderful that Ms. Cope used her pain to influence this lives of others. There isn't anything quite like giving back. Thanks for a great review Ali!

  7. This sounds like a very inspirational book...Alison, you have not steered me wrong, yet. Would very much enjoy reading it :)

    karen k