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Book review: ‘He Held My Heart: A Love Story’

Special to The Recorder

“He Held My Heart: A Love Story” by Hazel Porter-Maitland (Booksmyth Press, 111 pages, $15)

Sometimes the most touching love stories involve older people. Taking a chance on love may be most meaningful and most daring for those who have experienced love before and know the risks and rewards of building a life together.

In “He Held My Heart,” Hazel Porter-Maitland of Heath illustrates both the difficulties and the joys of older love. Hazel Porter met Alastair Maitland in the 1980s, when she was in her 50s and he was in his 60s. Both were widowed; each was charmed with the other.

Slowly and carefully, they built a rich life together. They married in 1986 and enjoyed 25 years of matrimony before Maitland, who suffered from dementia, died in their home in Heath in December 2011.

Porter’s brief book uses poems, essays, paintings, sketches and photographs to talk about their courtship and particularly about their last year together.

Taking care of a husband who was confused much of the time wasn’t easy for a woman in her 80s. Nevertheless, Porter’s affection for her husband shines through every page.

She wisely solicited help from her family and from a caring, competent aide. She continued to see friends and to paint and write as she cared for her husband. She dealt with his continuing desire to drive; with injuries of her own; and with life’s surprises with grace, gallantry and humor.

One of the book’s charms is a final section in which Porter provides backstory about her husband (mostly in the form of memorial tributes from friends and relatives) and herself.

Originally Scottish, Maitland was born into a British diplomatic family and went on to be a well-known diplomat himself. He finished his career working in the United States and retired to Heath, where he continued to exhibit diplomacy and charm.

Hazel Porter is a retired pastoral counselor who found in Heath solace after her first husband’s death, gardens and people to care for, and a community that embraced her and her family.

“He Held My Heart” isn’t a how-to manual about taking care of an elder spouse. It is instead a testament to Porter and Maitland’s ongoing love and to the creativity a couple can bring to life when the two are sustained by family, community, pets, and each other.

Its author writes in her preface, “In the gathering of these stories I found my voice and sadness has found a home.” Other people who are bereaved will relate to that voice and it should help their sadness come to rest, as well.

“He Held My Heart” is available at Boswell’s Books in Shelburne Falls and the World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield.

Hazel Porter will read from “He Held My Heart” on Sunday, Dec. 8, at 3 p.m. at the Arms Library in Shelburne Falls.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of The Pudding Hollow Cookbook (www.merrylion.com) and Pulling Taffy (www.pullingtaffy.com). She is always looking for new books from Franklin County-related authors to review for this paper. If you have a book suggestion, email her at Tinky@merrylion.com. She and Hazel Porter attend the same church.

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