“Heartbreak and Hope”: A Review of Where Yellow Flowers Bloom, by Kim Cantin
(Los Angeles: Precocity Press, 2023). ISBN: 979-8-9873501-6-4.
Over the past two decades, I have reviewed eight books
written by female authors sharing their process of grief and their inspiring
journey to hope. In most of these stories, their loss is that of a teenage
child. As a father of three adult children, I cannot begin to fathom the depth
of pain that comes with losing a child. As fate would have it, I spent the day
before I began this review with two mothers who lost their teenage children—one
to drowning and one to murder. In the latter case, her daughter—a star in the
classroom and on the soccer field—became addicted to opioids after back surgery
when she was sixteen, beginning a descent into illegal drug use in a world of
ruthless people who, several years later, lured, tortured, and killed her
before leaving her body by the side of the road. Their journeys are profound
and vastly different. The former was lost in a haze of prescription medications
until she met the second, who started a foundation to help those experiencing trauma
Kim Cantin lost not only her 17-year-old son Jack but her
husband Dave in a living nightmare in the form of a mudslide on January 9, 2018,
during California’s Thomas Fire—a mudslide that wreaked havoc for 30 square
miles. Her 14-year-old daughter, Lauren, who survived, was buried alive for more
than six hours. Kim and Lauren both sustained serious, frightening injuries.
The book begins three months before that tragic night,
introducing us to a family of four that is truly enviable in their personal
success, familial love, and attitudes of giving and charity for their
community. The pictures that grace this opening chapter—and those placed
throughout the book—work with Kim’s frank, first-person text to paint a
portrait that will bring a tear to the eye of even the most heart-hardened,
whether the photos are of special family moments or of the boulders that
obliterated their home and their lives. We follow the foursome through the
holidays, a time of reflection and preparation for what should be a bright
future full of abundant happiness for them all.
Then the mud and water invade.
I deeply admire Kim Cantin for revisiting these events in
the detail that she does. Although writing has been proven efficacious in healing
trauma, the author goes far beyond the act of journaling or letter-writing, selfishly
giving of her heart and soul by reliving these experiences moment by moment,
allowing us to have the slightest glimpse of the nightmare that unfolded that awful
I must also acknowledge Lauren. She has provided a multi-page
first-person description of what she went through the night of the mudslide,
which adds invaluable additional perspective to the events and their aftermath,
all the more profound because of her youth.
Take a moment if you will to reflect on the mudslide
itself—including all of its tremendous devastation—and all that Kim and Lauren
went through. They are in the hospital, their eyes scratched, their throats
parched, their bodies bruised and battered, when they receive the news that
David was killed by the mudslide (his body found more than a mile from their
house) and 17-year-old Jack is missing.
How many people in their position would have simply given
up? Because, quite honestly, how does one begin to find the resolve to carry on
after they, in a single evening, lose literally everything—including the
beloved family dog? How does one begin to accomplish that?
Kim and Lauren identify multiple pathways, and their ability
to heal (physically and psychologically), to plan funeral and memorial services,
to rebuild their lives, to see Lauren achieve accolades for her impressive
vocal talents, and, central to this story, undertake an unrelenting search for
Jack’s body, are both inspiring and a reminder of the best that humans can be.
So never mind that age-old question of why communities only
come together in tragedy… Let us, through Where
Yellow Flowers Bloom, celebrate that, when they do come together,
miraculous things occur.
As a lifelong performer and 33-year teacher, director, playwright,
and mentor for young performers and writers, I can state with authority that the
healing power of the Arts is profound. I see Lauren’s love of musical theatre
and her journey to healing through performance—which involved singing for
thousands of people (including Kenny Loggins) in numerous impressive venues—as a
beacon of hope for countless teenagers looking for a place to call their own,
as I did decades ago.
More than half the book is devoted to Kim’s relentless
search for Jack’s remains. This is truly a case of using every resource in
fulfilment of a mission—including people and techniques that go against one’s
zeitgeist. Not only does Kim marshal emergency services, celebrities like
Loggins and Rob Lowe, search and rescue, public works, private contractors, and
local universities and doctors—she opens her heart to the information and
offers of assistance from psychics and those whom Jack uses to get her
messages. Some of these people are as confused and uncomfortable in delivering
them as Kim is to receive them.
My wife and daughter possess these psychic gifts. My wife
and I assisted the mother mentioned above whose daughter was murdered in
communicating with her to receive information about the crime and its
perpetrators. The message my wife received four years ago from her at the place
where her body was found—“I am fine, this site means nothing to me, I left my
body before I was brought there, do not despair”—is virtually the same as the
ones Kim receives from Jack.
What ensues in Kim’s case is a three-plus-year journey (with
her Sacred Search Team), amassing clues, weathering dead ends and close calls,
and recovering bits and pieces of the Cantins’ pre-mudslide lives. As the
chapters unfold, they locate Jack’s teddy bear and Superman action figure and
costume (the latter apropos of his community service), Dave’s decades-old
artwork, a quilt Kim made with silhouettes of Dave and Jack, a porcelain train
ornament with Dave’s name on it (one of a set of four), and Jack’s ultrasound
images. Are you sensing a divine hand in all of this? I am.
Readers familiar with the Japanese art of Kintsugi and its practice as a means of
acknowledging trauma will be especially interested in a wooden pig figurine
discovered during the search.
To tell you any more would be to spoil your journey, which,
out of respect for Kim, Lauren, Dave, and Jack, I leave for you to undertake.
There are triumphs and setbacks as the mission reaches its climax, and Kim’s
reflections on the journey are vital lessons that all of us can employ.
Fitting for the spirit of community embodied in the
aftermath of the fires and mudslide of 2017 and 2018, the book concludes with
an In Memory page of those who died in these events. Dave and Jack are listed
alphabetically among the 22 others, which speaks volumes about the Cantins and
who they were and are.
In a world going ever more awry, books such as Where Yellow Flowers Bloom—the title’s
meaning waits for you to find it—provide a candle in the darkness, shelter from
the wind, and a loving hand on the center of your back when you’re feeling
alone. Tragedy and loss give us our humanity, but community gives our humanity
its fullest meaning, purpose, and expression.