Reviewed by Mary Jedlicka Humston
While Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away: A Love Letter to My Family might appear an unusual book for our blog, the title intrigued me with that one word: letter. And, more specifically the words: love letter.
This book’s topic is about football and dealing with severe brain injuries due to concussion, but it is also a letter of love that Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts tight end Ben Utecht wrote for his family. (with Mark Tabb) He writes his thoughts as a love letter to his wife Karyn and four daughters (although the book is written as a memoir, not as a collections of letters). It’s all the more pertinent because he is currently living with the side effects (in his case, severe memory loss) of what he is believed to suffer with: CTE, (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) a condition resulting from repeated head blows and concussions.
Current research has proven a link between CTE and football, but the condition is impossible to diagnose while the player is still alive. In fact, an autopsy on football players’ brains currently is the only definitive way to attain a diagnosis. Recent news reports highlight a study, conducted by Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University School of Medicine, which was published in The Journal of American Medical Association in late July, 2017. The study shows that depression, memory loss, cognitive trouble, changes in behavior and/or mood, and addiction are symptoms indicative of severe brain injuries associated with concussions sustained during football.
Five major concussions are documented during Utecht’s football career. That’s not counting the multiple mild brain injuries he also suffered. Writing this book allows him to record his memories for his family should he ever reach a point where his memory loss interferes with recalling important events from his life.
One poignant segment of the book stands out for me. He is chatting with his wife Karyn and two good friends about the couple’s recent marriage. As the conversation continues, Utecht becomes angrier and angrier. How can they be so rude as to talk about this wedding while he’s sitting there? He was best friends with the groom and yet he was not even invited to the wedding. When he finally unleashes his anger and deep hurt, he immediately sobers when shown a photo, not only proving that he attended the wedding, but that he was a groomsman.
Counting the Days While My Mind Slips Away: A Love Letter to My Family (2016) is heavy with football stories and language, but it’s also a personal story of triumph and determination and how Utecht perseveres despite the challenges he faces. He has also become well-known for singing (he’s sung with Christian singer Sandi Patty and has frequently sung the National Anthem at sporting events). A beautiful song results from that love letter he wrote his wife and his daughters that I mentioned at the beginning of this review. As a nice accompaniment to the book, I’d advise you to watch the You Tube song/video inspired by that letter: You Will Always Be My Girls.
Even though I didn’t understand all the football language and some play-by-play action, I recommend this book. It especially becomes more pertinent since CTE has been in the news so much lately.