May 21 2013 11:00am

In Sickness and in Health: Illness and Hurt/Comfort in Romance Novels

The Other Side of Us by Sarah MayberryI read romance novels because I love the journey of two people falling in love. There is the encounter and then the attraction which leads to lust and hunger, need and desire. Throw in some conflict—maybe communication problems or different goals, or maybe a misunderstanding. Blend in doubts and insecurities. Shake and stir, and serve with a little heartbreak. But by the book’s end, the couple realize they complete each other—they are better people when they are together. They start their passion-filled lives together, euphorically in love and blissfully happy.

But there is another side of love. The part of love that is more grounded in day-to-day life–the love Angelina Jolie alluded at when she recently stated:

"I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive. We managed to find moments to laugh together. We knew this was the right thing to do for our family and that it would bring us closer. And it has.”

Both women and men want to find someone who will be there for the long haul, through thick or thin, in sickness and in health.

Books that illustrate this type of love touch a core in me, because I know that this is such an basic element of true love. Altruism can be as exciting as passion.

I have mentioned The Other Side of Us by Sarah Mayberry before, but one reason it moved me so is the caring by the hero. Here is one of the scenes:

She closed her eyes as he left the room. The pain was starting to build, but she knew that he would be returning soon and the knowledge that she could rely on him, that he had her back, took the edge off her panic.

It was a novel feeling, knowing that someone else was looking out for her, even in the smallest capacities.

One Mountain Away by Emilie RichardsThis scene from One Mountain Away by Emilie Richards brought tears to my eyes:

When he’d insisted he was moving into her house and back into her life, Ethan had offered to sleep elsewhere, pointing out that she would rest better without him beside her. But neither of them had really wanted that.

When she had disagreed, he’d eased between the covers, and gently pulled her close. Had she not been so sick, she was sure there would have been more. Despite that she found great pleasure knowing he had come to her not because she was an object of pity, but because Ethan was as hungry to find the intimacy they’d cast aside as she was. For now they just settled against each other, leg curving against leg, palm splayed on midriff, her elbow caressing the back of his hand, and found their way into each other’s dreams.

Eloisa James is not afraid to tackle illness or handicaps. I found When Beauty Tamed the Beast both riveting and touching: Piers discovers Linnet near death. As a doctor he does all he can but:

His doctor’s instinct told him what he couldn’t put into words. The patient was close to death.

He turned down the lamp, looked at her again, and finally extinguished it. Moonlight was enough . . . moonlight and the thread of her pulse.

Carefully, carefully, Piers hoisted himself onto the bed, lying on top of the sheet so he didn’t touch any open wounds. But he had to hold her, so he tucked the sheet around her neck, and then wrapped an arm around her waist.

And if the sobs escaped then, if the sheet grew salty and wet, there was no one to see but the moon.

Don't Cry for Me by Sharon SalaSharon Sala in her book, Don’t Cry for Me, has the hero, Quinn taking care of the heroine Mariah after she is discharged from the hospital.

A surge of emotions ran through her. Without family to turn to, she’d been in something of a panic, wondering what was going to happen to her when they kicked her out of Blanchfield. Quinn was a godsent, but she was a long way from the woman she’d been and felt obligated to warn him.

“Are you sure? I don’t think you know what you’re getting yourself into. I’m a wreck. My honorable discharge just went through. I’m so screwed up the army doesn’t want me anymore.

“That’s okay. I want you.”

When I first started writing this article, I thought scenes of compassion and caring were fairly rare. But after doing a search, I discovered that these types of books are more common than I thought. And like me, many readers can’t get enough of these tender, stirring scenes. From a thread on Amazon and Goodreads readers speak enthusiastically of books like Parting Gifts by Lorraine Heath, Seduction by Sara by Karen Hawkins, Where Dreams Began and Seduce Me at Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas, Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale, One Forbidden Evening by Jo Goodman, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley, To Wed a Stranger by Edith Layton, Wonderful by Jill Barnett, Night and Day by Sandra Canfield, Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh, Lover Awakened and Lover Mine by J.R. Ward, The Heat by Heather Killough-Walden, and many more.

Do you have a favorite poignant scene that has lingered in your mind, years after you closed the book?


Leigh Davis, Blogger

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Maggie Boyd
1. maggieboyd66
I don't have a favorite scene in a romance novel but I do in a TV series. Call the Midwife, a British show which airs on PBS, shows that kindness can be as important as good practice in medical care. Two episodes that especially touched me were where lead character Jenny reached out to an old man living in a filthy flat and cared not just for the sores on his feet but became his friend. All his old family and friends were dead and having her about eased his passage. Another great moment came when she and one of the nuns visited a mentally and physically ill elderly patient. They cleaned her, the apartment and brought her some peace and closure regarding her kids. It was horrifying to hear the story behind the patients "workhouse wail" but heartening to see the difference that some kindness provided to her life. I strongly recommend this series, no qualifiers. Season two was even better than season one.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
@LeighDavis, I totally teared up during that Eloisa James scene you mention--that moment turns all of the previous moments in the book on their heads, and really cements how much I fell in love with those two characters.
Lee Brewer
3. LeeB.
Can't think of specific scenes at the moment but the books you list are some of my favorites.
4. Scarlettleigh
@LeeB - I think that one reason these books are such a favorite with readers is that they do have altruism and passion. Not knocking passion at all - don't get me wrong. But it sort of a two way street. Both parties benefit. But caring is different - truly an example of selflessness.
5. Scarlettleigh
@MFrampton - oh my gosh the beginning of her illness to when Piers finally finds her was so riveting. I was clued to the pages. I work in the medical field so I was horrified at her condition. That almost had me in tears too, but then that scene did me in. Extremely moving book.
6. Scarlettleigh
@maggieboyd66 - How heartwarming. Thanks for mentioning it. I will have to check out the schedule for the program.
Jennifer Proffitt
7. JenniferProffitt
What a great post! When Beauty Tamed the Beast got put onto my Keeper Shelf after that scene when Piers finds Linnet and takes care of her, ugh! I sobbed!

What a great line, I'm tearing up just re-reading it:
And if the sobs escaped then, if the sheet grew salty and wet, there was no one to see but the moon.
8. carmenlire
I teared up too with the snippet from When Beauty Tamed the Beast. I love that Piers was so surly towards everyone at the start of the novel, and now we see that he is hopelessly in love. @JenniferProffitt I kept rereading that line too! Eloisa James is on my keeper shelf for a reason! That scene is only an example of how much she can make me cry!
9. wsl0612
@maggie - I think Call the Midwife is far more romantic and compelling than Downton Abbey. The relationships are wonderful and to see how people care about each other through all the hardships leaves me verklempt!
Jennifer Proffitt
10. JenniferProffitt
@carmenlire, I have probably read that book at least once a year or every other year since I first read it. I think it's one of EJ's best, but when all of her books are that great it's hard to choose ;)
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