by Clark Groome
Thinking it would be unbearably sad, I resisted reading Mark Kram Jr.’s “Like Any Normal Day: A Story of Devotion.” Stupid me.
The book tells the story of the relationship between Buddy Miley and his youngest brother Jimmy. Buddy was 17 years old when he broke his neck in a 1973 football game between Miley’s William Tennent High School and rival Plymouth Whitemarsh. The accident, and some really bad medical care at the game and after, left the kid a quadriplegic.
For the next 24 years Miley was unable to care for himself. He had to be fed, washed, dressed and turned over regularly to avoid the omnipresent danger of bed sores. He was moved only with difficulty. He was in almost constant pain.
Jimmy, six years his junior, was his best friend. They spent hours together talking about everything under the sun. Buddy was never at a loss for friends or attention. While most of the actual care came from his family, his hours were often filled with diversions that made life seem worthwhile, at least to the outsider, and at least for a while.
As time progressed, however, he began to find it harder and harder to stand the pain and the isolation. In the early 1990s he learned about Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his practice of helping critically ill people commit suicide.
Buddy was never afraid of death. He thought he was dying when he was first injured and found the experience peaceful rather than scary. So when he finally made the decision that he had had enough, it was a firm, positive move on his part.
As Buddy had done so many times before, he called on Jimmy to help him. Jimmy had taken him to Lourdes and was as devoted as a brother can be, even when he was facing his own physical and psychological problems.
Kram, a superb sports feature writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, did a story on the Mileys years ago. After his first piece, he stayed in touch. After Buddy’s death in 1997, Kram says the story and the family stayed with him. He wanted to tell their story, not just the “what” and “when” but the “who” and “how.”
As is to be expected by anyone who regularly reads Kram’s stuff in the People Paper, this story is told in depth and with sensitivity, insight and heart. He explores in a most human and personal way the lives Buddy, Jimmy, the Miley family and so many others had during the time Buddy was alive and how his death affected them afterwards.
“Like Any Normal Day” (272 pages, St. Martin’s Press) is, yes, unbearably sad. It is also amazingly uplifting. One reviewer called it “heartbreaking and heartwarming.” It is both.
Kram manages to get to the core of his subject and his subjects without an ounce of bathos. He is an active voice in the story, sharing with us his feelings and parts of his life that help us to understand why he was so fascinated by and felt so connected to Buddy and his family.
In retrospect I wish I hadn’t waited for four months after it was published and downloaded to my Kindle before I read it.
These comments about “Like Any Normal Day: A Story of Devotion” are appearing in a sports column because Kram is a sports writer, Buddy was injured in a football game and so much of the Mileys’ lives revolved around sport.
That doesn’t limit the book’s appeal at all. It is about life, courage, survival, hope and, mostly, love. It’s an amazing story, brilliantly and sensitively told.