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Penticton author chronicles challenges of caring for a paralyzed loved one

When searching for solace after tragedy, people often turn to art.

Whether it’s painting or sculpture or writing, something about the process itself can be healing. The resulting art can be deeply personal.

But at its best, art derived from loss, can also be shared. And that’s the case with Cabrini Babakaiff’s new book, Curve Balls: Rolling with the Punches. The book chronicles much of Cabrini’s life, but is ultimately about how she and her family coped with an accident that left her husband, Frank Babakaiff, a quadriplegic.

Frank was a well-known personality in Penticton. His friends and family grieved once when they learned that he had crushed vertebrae while body surfing in Hawaii, and again several years later when he died of lung cancer.

Even for those who knew Frank well, Cabrini’s book will be a revelation. Frank and Cabrini were a very close couple — choosing to spend time together above all else. But, in this book Cabrini is astonishingly open and honest about the staggering number of difficulties that came into her life when faced with caring for a paralyzed loved one.

She writes about the big obstacles: the surgeries, a prolonged stay in Vancouver, the disappointments with rehab, the emotional toll of returning home to Penticton as a quadriplegic, and the heartbreaking realization, after carrying out exhausting renovations, that Frank wouldn’t be able to live at home.

Cabrini also shares smaller day-to-day difficulties — the agonizing burning sensation anytime fabric rubbed Frank’s skin, the fact that he had to wake Cabrini anytime he needed his pillow shifted or his covers pulled up.

She also talks about small triumphs and happy moments. And above all, makes sure to mention the many Pentictonites — such as Martyn Stephenson and Dennis Stolen -- who reached out to help.

In Curve Balls, readers will find mixed metaphors, extraneous details and memories such as camping and sporting trips that are really only meant for family and close friends to cherish. But in her own compelling way, Cabrini shows us that Frank was Penticton’s version of Superman. Not just because he also became a quadriplegic during a sporting accident, but because his charismatic smile was always a symbol of hope and optimism.

With Curve Balls, Cabrini has made sure we won’t forget Frank anytime soon.

Heather Allen is a book reviewer and avid reader living in Penticton.

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