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Sing no sad songs: Losing a daughter to cancer


Published by Canterbury University Press, New Zealand


ISBN: 978-1-927145-06-7

Published: 2011




At the age of 22 Rebecca Arnold, an art student from Greendale in Canterbury, was diagnosed with a rare and vicious cancer. Thirteen months later this vibrant and talented young woman was dead, her family left to cope with a tidal wave of grief and loss.

Sing No Sad Songs is a heart breaking and yet beautifully composed memoir by Rebecca’s mother, Sandra Arnold. It is a haunting story of bereavement, survival, courage and acceptance, as well as a fiercely tender account of a close mother-daughter relationship cut far too short.

The story begins with the family’s move to live in Brazil for a year, during which time we get to know Rebecca and her family, and watch her blossom into womanhood in this colourful and challenging environment. Her subsequent decline and death are all the more shocking in contrast.

This profoundly moving and compelling memoir is neither sentimental nor voyeuristic. It is  a restrained telling of a personal journey – ‘the map I have constructed for myself’ – that is ultimately powerfully redemptive.



(David Cohen, New Zealand Books, 2011)

'Arnold has fashioned her own devastating experience into this book. She is in my opinion, a heroic individual.’ 

(Fiona Farrell, 2011)

‘This book lets in laughter and delight in a life lived impulsively; it acknowledges moments of bleak failure and despair; it recounts death without recourse to the conventional reassurances of religion; it offers the gentle comfort of horses and lets the cats in to sit on the sick-bed. It is a brave and wonderful book about death, pain and love.’ 

(Jane Dunbar, Christchurch Press, 2011)

‘Arnold’s detailed account of her daughter’s illness will be unhappily familiar to those who have had a lot to do with hospitals and a warning to those who haven’t. Arnold’s observations about how people behave during Rebecca’s illness and after her death offer plenty to think about for any bystanders of tragedy. Not only is this a sad story of one family’s tragedy, it also explores issues of wider relevance, illness, dying, death, grief – we all need to consider these things either in our own lives or in the lives of others. This book is a map – a map of one woman’s very personal experience that nevertheless provides road signs for us all.’ 

(Louise McKenzie, Compassionate Friends, Central Otago, 2011)

‘The book is lovely. I learned a lot from the details of the journey with cancer. The day to day progressions and fluctuations were fascinating and I’m sure would be very helpful for families living through similar experiences. It was more like a story you didn’t want to put down because you wanted to know what happened next, rather than an educational account. Much more user-friendly.’

(Ruth Williams, TEXT, Vol 16, no 1, 2012)

‘Sandra Arnold holds a ‘qualification’ no other parent ever hopes to have to earn: in 2002 her daughter, Rebecca, died from a rare appendix cancer at twenty three years of age. Sing No Sad Songs is a memoir that covers several years, beginning in 1995, the year Arnold and her family travelled to Brazil, and ending with Arnold reflecting on life without Rebecca, six years later. Immersing yourself in Sing No Sad Songs will provide you with an honest and intimate perspective on one of life’s greatest challenges. I recommend that if you have had a similar experience, or wish to understand what it might be like, Sing No Sad Songs is a very good place to start.’ 

(Graham Beattie, Beattie’s Book Blog, June 28, 2011)

‘She does it so well… I was weeping buckets in places.’ 

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