On the shelf: ‘Kitchen Table Wisdom’ by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen

By Karen Thoms, Grand Rapids Public Library, Main


If I were sitting across the table and complaining to Rachel Remen about something going on in my life, I’m certain she would give me a pearl of wisdom wrapped in a story. Not only am I wiser for Kitchen Table Wisdom, I am more human.


This book contains approximately 80 short stories from Remen’s counseling practice, primarily with cancer patients. Many passages left me with tears in my eyes. And although the stories were about her patients’ and coworkers’ “aha!” moments, it was I who was illuminated. I cried over my negative attitudes.


In order to be a successful female doctor in the early 1960s, Remen covered over her own tenderness with clinical expertise. Through turns of circumstances interspersed in the book, she recaptures much of the softness her Jewish grandfather had instilled in her. Her transparency about her own journey is refreshing, which in turn suggests to the reader that they, too, may have something to discover about their own life.


I was particularly moved by a story of a male patient in the final stages of cancer. What he loved more than anything about seeing his oncologist, he told Remen, were the conversations they would have at the end of his appointments. This doctor was the only person in his life who he felt completely understood what he was going through.


Eventually his doctor said there was nothing more he could do, though additional chemotherapy might prolong his life. He did not want more chemotherapy, so the doctor released him from his care. He was devastated; yet he resumed treatments just to have those short conversations! Remen is also the counselor of the man’s oncologist. This doctor came to Remen because he felt his life did not matter. He believed if he died no one would miss him.


In three pages, I have been given a beautiful story. Inside the story I see  clearly the value of listening to others with an open heart. And although Remen could not tell the oncologist of the great impact he was making on one man’s life, she told me that, even if I cannot see it, my life is significant to someone.


Kitchen Table Wisdom is a must-read for everyone who desires to expand their capacities for loving, understanding and accepting others.


Thank you, Dr. Remen, for many hours of  counseling.