Jeannie Gaffigan’s powerful tale of faith and healing told with humility, humor

This is the cover of "When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith and Funny People," by Jeannie Gaffigan. (CNS photo/courtesy Jeannie Gaffigan) See stories marked GAFFIGAN- Nov. 19, 2019.

Reviewed by Bonnie Engstrom

Jeannie Gaffigan’s entire identity was wrapped up in being a Super Mom, Super Wife, and Super Producer. It took a life threatening brain tumor to make her relinquish her need to control and excel. Her memoir, “When Life Gives You Pears: The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People” recounts the events of her diagnosis, surgery, and recovery and also shares the ways her Catholic faith and loved ones carried her through the terrifying experience.

In Holy Week of 2017, Gaffigan learned that her hearing was failing and her balance was off not because she was a busy mom who didn’t have time to take care of herself but because of a pear-sized tumor at the base of her brain. As she sat in her doctor’s office she wondered if she would die, leaving her five children in the care of a sweet but bumbling husband. Obviously she could not die because no one else could possibly take care of everything as well as she.

So as the Church entered the Holy Triduum, Jeannie had brain surgery and began a monthslong recovery where she could not speak and had to be tube fed. She did not die, but those days, weeks, and months were filled with many “deaths to self” that changed her life.


“When Life Gives You Pears” is written with sincerity, humility, and humor. At one point she tells an incredibly powerful story of the Blessed Mother’s presence in her life — the book is worth reading for this incredible account alone! Time and again her story illustrates the power of prayer and the beauty of the Catholic faith.

Gaffigan never hides her beliefs, but is also aware that not everyone will believe as she does, making the book incredibly approachable for non-Catholics. At a time when our culture declares that no one can argue with a person’s experience I found “When Life Gives You Pears” to be a powerful, and perhaps sneaky, tool for evangelization. One thinks they’re reading an account of how someone processed cancer with humor, but really it’s an illustration of real faith lived out by imperfect people who are loved by God and being refined through redemptive suffering. Surprise!


Jeannie is probably best known as the wife of comedian Jim Gaffigan. Jim is famous for jokes about food, Netflix specials, and being crazy enough to not only have five kids but to also raise them in New York City. Jeannie is often mentioned in the set-ups of Jim’s jokes but otherwise she has spent their marriage backstage while Jim stood in the spotlight.

With her book Jeannie now gives us a deeper look of what their life is like — the hustle and bustle of NYC, plus a larger-than-most family, and a good mix of fame, productions, tours, and Hollywood. But Gaffigan never comes off as elite. In fact, Jeannie and Jim both hail from the Midwest and those roots shine through. “When Life Gives You Pears” is less like reading a book and more like catching up with your best friend from high school. Jeannie is funny and friendly and takes great care to make her reader feel welcome.

“When Life Gives You Pears” is an approachable, easy read that made me laugh out loud and moved me to tears more than once. Don’t write this book off as a celebrity memoir or a sad book about cancer. It’s a story of faith, healing, and love and it showcases the blossoming of a marriage, a family, and a woman’s soul.

Bonnie Engstrom

BONNIE ENGSTROM is a writer, speaker, homemaker, and blogger from St. Patrick Parish, Washington. She is author of “61 Minutes to a Miracle: Fulton Sheen and a True Story of the Impossible.” Learn more about Bonnie at her blog, “A Knotted Life.”

SPALDING PASTORAL CENTER | 419 NE MADISON AVENUE | PEORIA, IL 61603 | PHONE (309) 671-1550 | FAX (309) 671-1595
© Copyright 2024 - The Catholic Post || All Rights Reserved || Design by