Tag: Imperfect Endings

Dr. Death’s Final Decision

June 4th, 2011 — 9:59pm

After championing the rights of the sick and suffering to get help ending their lives — and providing that “help” to scores of terminally ill patients — Dr. Jack Kevorkian died of natural causes on Friday at the age of 83.

According to Geoffrey Fieger, the lawyer who represented Kevorkian in several of his trials in the 1990s, Kevorkian was too weak to take advantage of the option he had offered others and had long wished for himself. “If he had enough strength to do something about it,” Fieger told a news conference in Southfield, Michigan, “he would have.”

If that is true, there is something almost epically tragic about the fact that a man who fought so long and hard for patients’ right to die on their own terms, wasn’t able to take advantage of this option in the end. But then who is to say “Dr. Death” didn’t simply change his mind? He’d apparently been suffering from kidney failure and pneumonia for over a month, long enough to plan his own death if he’d wanted to. He was a doctor and entirely familiar with how to end a life quickly and painlessly. And given his well-known penchant for drama and attention, you’d think he’d want to make himself exhibit A for what he believed in. (At the start of his third trial, he showed up in court wearing Colonial-era clothing to show how antiquated he thought the charges were and, after videotaping himself helping to kill a patient, he voluntarily handed the tape over to “60 Minutes.”)

The fact that Kevorkian didn’t end his own life is, to me, a potent reminder that our political beliefs are not always in the driver’s seat when it comes to death. Just as one can imagine even the staunchest anti-assisted suicide crusader wavering in the face of extreme pain and disability, I have found that certain pro-assisted suicide people seem to believe that killing oneself is actually a better option than dying naturally. Often, when I mention that I wrote a book about my mother’s decision to end her life after a long illness, people say, “Oh, well I definitely plan to do that. I’ve already made it clear that that the minute I get a disease, I want someone to take me out back and shoot me!”

I get the humor but there is a glib — even fashionable — assumption that suicide, assisted or not, is a good way to go. I want to ask: How would your kids feel if you do that? Your spouse? And how would you feel if it was them making that choice? I’m a big supporter of the Death with Dignity Laws in this country, but frankly, as long as I’m not in pain and have some quality of life, I’m planning to “go naturally,” just like Kevorkian did in the end.

The idea that ending your life is going to be easier and more straightforward than letting nature take its course is something of a happy illusion. Having witnessed both my parents dying in very different ways, I know that even the best laid plans for death can go awry. It reminds me of the “birth plan” I drafted when I was pregnant. Somehow, between planning the perfect play list and specifying that I didn’t want an episiotomy, I forgot to factor in throwing up, forgetting to breathe, and the uncontrollable urge to yell obscenities at the nurse. So much for my beautiful birthing experience.

It may be a cliche, but there really are some things we can’t control and even for strong-minded people like my mother, who was determined to plot the details of her “end,” you simply cannot know how you will feel when the day comes. In fact, my mother set and changed her “death dates” several times, discovering on the chosen day that she wasn’t quite ready to go after all.

In Bill Moyers’ PBS special on assisted suicide a few years ago (“On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying”), not one of the people Moyers followed actually ended up killing themselves. There was always one more event they wanted to stay alive for: a birthday, or a grandchild’s graduation. Every one of his subjects waited until it was too late and no longer had the physical capability to manage it. All, except for one woman who died from natural causes before she had a chance to take the pills she’d stockpiled. Pulling the plug turns out to not always be so easy.

Adding to the vagaries of the psyche is the unpredictability of the body. Unless you live in one of the three states where physician assisted suicide is legal (Oregon, Washington and Montana) and have access to a group like Compassion & Choices who will help make sure you are taking the right dose of drugs, chances are you will not know how to calibrate the means of death. In my mother’s case, stopping eating and drinking took far longer than she’d expected, and an attempted morphine overdose failed. Although she did ultimately manage to end her life, it was not the controlled, predictable event she’d hoped for.

I read recently that the issue of assisted suicide splits this country almost completely in half, making it an especially divisive and contentious issue. I would respectfully suggest that both sides may have lost sight of the fact that death can – and will — make a mockery of even the most carefully laid plans, the most passionately held beliefs.

And who knows, when it came down to it, maybe Jack Kevorkian simply wanted to stay alive and was hoping he might recover. Or maybe his lawyer is right and he wished someone had been there to help him speed things along. We will never know and that is as it should be. Because as politicized as it has become in this county, death is ultimately a private experience, fraught with unknowns. And Dr. Kevorkian, like all of us who support assisted suicide as a legal and moral principle, had the right to change his mind.

This piece was published in Salon on June 4th, 2011.

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Passing On A Love of Words: A Mother’s Day Tribute

May 8th, 2011 — 7:59pm

If childhood had a soundtrack, mine would be the hammering keys and intermittent “ping” of a busy typewriter.

From as far back as I can remember, my mother would regularly disappear into her study to write on her IBM Selectric, emerging hours later with piles of papers and empty coffee cups, with a dreamy, satisfied expression on her face. When I was in elementary school, she was working on a master’s degree in literature, and, by the time I started high school, she had begun an autobiographical novel that would consume her for the rest of her life.

To read the rest of this piece, go to AOL’s ParentDish:

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The Ghost in My Quilt

March 15th, 2011 — 3:50pm
mother's quilt, Vermont

My Mother's Quilt, Vermont, March 2011

After a whirlwind 24-hours in New York City to promote my book and attend an award ceremony, I arrived at my sister Sarah’s farmhouse in Northern Vermont ready to relax and enjoy the deep piles of New England snow.

Straight out of a Vermont Life calendar, Sarah’s house is a gorgeous 1850’s era farmhouse with a large pond and spectacular three-story red barn, and my first evening was spent enjoying a meal with some close friends who live nearby. But as we put away the leftovers and prepared to turn in, my good mood was abruptly punctured when my sister said: “I hope you don’t mind that I have Momma’s quilt on the bed where you’re sleeping. I’ve never brought it out before but I realized that the blue was a perfect match for the trim so I stuck it in your room.”

My mind instantly flashed on the blue-and-white quilt that had covered my mother’s bed during the final months of her life. “My God, I think she even died under it,” I thought uneasily, although not wanting to be overly dramatic, I kept the thought to myself. But I could feel my body recoil. Because I did mind. A lot.

“I’m not so sure I do want it on my bed,” I finally replied, not sure how to explain why I felt such an intense aversion to the idea. I’m not superstitious and I could have viewed this remnant of my mother’s life as a comfort, an opportunity to feel her presence in a loving and peaceful way. But I didn’t. Instead, I felt a painful stab of memory as scenes from the days leading up to her suicide flipped through my mind. In distressing detail, I saw her lying in her bed, lonely and unhappy, plotting how to kill herself — and all the time covered by that damn quilt!

“Really?” My sister looked over at me with surprise and perhaps a slight trace of impatience. “Well, maybe you should get over that,” she suggested. “Think of it as a nice thing.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, still not wanting it on my bed but reluctant to insist she give me a different quilt.

Gathering up my suitcase and preparing to go upstairs, I realized that my mother’s old patchwork quilt — an item I’d described in my memoir, Imperfect Endings — was an emblem to me of her entrapment. Entrapment in her room; in her bed; and in her illness. To her, death was the means to free herself from that entrapment, something I came to understand and even sympathize with. But knowing that she’d chosen death because she no longer felt life worth living was still painful for me to confront, even after all these years.

And I couldn’t help feeling that if I slid under that same quilt, I would find myself similarly – scarily – yoked by it. I don’t believe in ghosts but I wondered: Wouldn’t this most intimate of her possessions, the very cloth she’d touched and lain under day after day, night after night, contain some energetic memory of her? Some psychic imprint of her spirit, her personhood? And not just of her, but of her pain, her desperate desire to escape.

Uneasily, I headed up the stairs and entered the room. There was the quilt. A lighter blue than I remember. Pretty. Simple. Just a quilt, I told myself. A quilt that matches the trim.

But the uneasiness stirred again as I climbed in underneath it and I had to resist the urge to unfold the extra wool blanket at the foot of the bed and cover it up. Drifting off to sleep, I wondered if I would dream of her and who she would be in those dreams. Would she be the mother I’d had as a child? The tall, beautiful woman with thick dark hair and broad shoulders who’d made me cocoa and tucked me in at night? Or the depleted, stiff woman who’d lain under this quilt at the end of her life, longing to escape the confines of her body, of the earthly realm itself?

It turned out that none of these ghosts would appear, imaginary or otherwise. Instead, as the snow fell outside my window, adding to the already impressive drifts piled up against the house, I slept as heavily as a child. And a funny thing happened. By the second night, the quilt no longer seemed to hold its aura of entrapment or pain. It was… just a quilt – simple, pretty. A good match for the trim. An object that happened to have belonged to my mother.

And as I pulled it up around me on my last night, ran my fingers along its soft edges, I felt myself held lightly in its embrace.

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Why People on Facebook Care that My Cat is Disgusting

June 8th, 2010 — 12:53pm

Since joining Facebook last year, I’ve come to realize that there are two basic types of FB users: those who post about politics, the birds in their backyard, the funny things their children say – and those who use FB to sell themselves. This second group, the self-promoters, invariably have a product to sell – a book, a show, a service, a business – and that’s why they are there.

I am, for the most part, a self-promoter.  But in my defense, promoting on FB was what everyone, including my publisher, said you had to do. It was the new reality, they said. Social Media is where it’s at in terms of selling books. Step One: amass friends, whether you know them or not. Step Two: bombard them with artfully worded references to your product. Step three: rinse and repeat.

But who are we kidding? Everyone knows exactly what you are up to. All those artfully worded posts “thanking” some person or another for their nice review of your book as if it was about them when of course it’s really about you.  That casually expressed “surprise” that the book would be published in Chinese? That’s right — all about you.

And for the first few months after the book came out, I was pretty thrilled to be getting all the attention – the reviews, the radio interviews — and for those friends who really are my friends, I like to think they were interested and happy for me.

But then over time, I noticed that there were an awful lot of obligatory sounding “great” and “congrats” getting tossed back in response to these self-serving status updates. And, as the weeks went by, sometimes… no comments at all. And I started feeling a little foolish as my “fabulous news” just hung there, utterly un-remarked upon. It was kind of like trying too hard at a party and having everyone turn away in embarrassment.

And then something very illuminating happened. I posted something about how disgusting my cat was (grooming on countertops, overeating, etc.)  and I was… ALIVE again. The comments came in fast and furious. Everyone wanted to weigh in on my kitty. There were expressions of concern, questions about age and diet (the cat’s not mine), humorous remarks, riffs off riffs, and on and on. And I realized that this light-hearted post about my cat’s revolting habits revealed the beating heart of our social nature — both in the real and the virtual world.

Yes, up to a point we want to hear about each other’s successes and know about each other’s big moments and events. We might even want to read each other’s books or blog posts. But Facebook is less of a market place than it is an old-fashioned town square. A place where we can stop and chat, maybe tell a funny story or share some outrage over the latest world disaster, not a place to hand out leaflets and make people sign petitions — and not a place to make people buy something from you.

In fact, the response to my cat post made me wonder if social media as a promotional tool hasn’t been somewhat overplayed. I’ve read a number of posts by bloggers bemoaning the fact that no one reads their blogs. I have, in fact, written some of those posts. And while posting on certain sites – Open Salon being one of them – does cause an up-tick of traffic to my book’s website, it’s pretty modest.

One problem may be that there are simply more writers than readers, more sellers than buyers — and more self-promoting status updates than we can deal with. Social media gives anyone who can make up a password and upload a photo, an instant platform from which to advertise themselves. The problem is that we are all competing for the same shrinking marketplace and we are all exhausted by the demand to read or applaud or buy each other’s work. I know, because I also suffer from promotion fatigue. I still bounce over and read the occasional blog or check out a book or some artwork, but I skim over much of it. If I didn’t, my writing life would be reduced to commenting on other people’s post and updates.

Which brings me back to my cat post. One reason it was so popular is because for once I wasn’t asking anyone to read or listen or do anything — I was simply inviting people to share in the common experience of dealing with a weird and irritating pet. And it is this universal aspect that is often at the root of the “hit” update on FB.

Let me give you another example. A friend of mine, a deft master of the pithy FB update, posted about trying to “make peace” with her gray hair. It caused a cyber riot. Post after post flew in. Heated debate ensued about the merits of going natural vs. continuing to dye. Dire warnings about similar experiments that ended badly. Impassioned pleas to keep the color going. Forget about politics, or someone’s boring book, show, painting or cause, here was an issue people could really sink their teeth into. More importantly, my friend wasn’t crafting an idealized, “marketable” image, she was revealing something real and imperfect about herself, owning up to aging and the fact that she dyes her hair.

While many things determine whether a post hits a nerve (including the relative celebrity of the poster) I think it is often the willingness to reveal, to be vulnerable and imperfect, that people respond to.  After all, we’re social animals at heart, programmed to interact, and while our socializing has taken on some pretty strange forms in recent times – 140 character tweets, status updates, and “liking” each other – keeping it real and showing the world our behind-the-scenes selves, is still what makes us feel most connected.

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Homage to An Unsentimental Mother

May 9th, 2010 — 5:53pm

Mother’s Day was more of a rumor than a reality when I was growing up. I heard friends talk about cards and flowers and going out to brunch but it wasn’t something we did at my house. It’s not that I didn’t have a mother at home — I did. But she and my father did not believe in Hallmark card expressions of filial devotion — Father’s Day was also a nonstarter — and they scoffed at anything that smacked of sentimentality.

Part of a group of forward-thinking young liberals in Washington D.C. in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, my mother prided herself on having left the tenets and traditions of her past behind. Although she’d grown up in a politically conservative, Catholic family who prided themselves on their family connections (Daughters of the American Revolution, various illustrious ancestors), my mother had gone off to Sarah Lawrence and recreated herself as a modern, secular woman devoted to a “life of the mind.” Mother’s Day was just a manufactured tradition, she scoffed, a product of our consumerist culture.

For years, I accepted this interpretation. Until I married a man whose mother was the opposite of mine; every occasion, big or small, was an excuse for a present or a card, filled with flowery sentiments. Raised in that tradition, my husband naturally taught our two daughters to make a big deal out of Mother’s Day. And so, in my thirties, I found myself part of the Mother’s Day brunch brigade, clutching my flowers and homemade cards at some fancy restaurant table, dressed in my springtime best.

I loved every minute of it. I never found these rituals trite or clichéd; I found them touching and exotic. Like Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July must feel to foreigners celebrating these occasions for the first time.

It was during these early years of motherhood, that my mother’s Parkinson’s disease grew markedly worse and she began to talk about wanting to end her life on her “own terms.” She’d been in a Parkinson’s support group and had seen first hand how bad things could get for some people, and she was determined not to end up “incapacitated and incontinent.” At first my two sisters and I did not take her seriously, but after she joined the Hemlock Society and asked me for help in procuring a lethal dose of Seconal, we began to suspect that she might indeed go through with it.

For over a year, my mother talked of little else. True to form, she spent little energy inquiring how my sisters and I felt about her committing suicide but would call up and matter of factly ask –“I was thinking about ending things on April first. Would that work for you?” – and insist I check my calendar. These conversations, which invariably happened just as I was cooking dinner or getting my daughters ready for school, were both maddening and distressing.

By the spring of 2001, I was flying to Washington D.C. from my home on the West Coast every three or four weeks and worrying nonstop about my mother’s increasingly serious suicide plans. Finding myself at home a few days before Mother’s Day, I did something I had never done: I sent my mother a bouquet of flowers — with a card. On it, I told her that I loved her and wished her a happy Mother’s Day. It felt both right and vaguely transgressive and I had no idea what she would make of it,

“You know, I never thought I cared about things like this,” she said, sounding a bit amazed when she called to thank me. “But I realize that I do!”

“And to think, you could have been getting flowers all these years,” I said, teasingly.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” she laughed. “I guess you’re never too old to learn something about yourself.”

Two months later, my mother stopped eating and drinking. Eleven days later, she died. She chose fasting, in part, so that my sisters and I could be there with her at the end without having to worry about the legal consequences.

My mother remained remarkably cheerful throughout this time. I think she was relieved to have the dying process finally underway. “I’ve had a good life,” she told me, sternly. “And I’m not sorry to go.”

Our conversations while she was fasting were the usual — blunt, funny and argumentative. Later, my older sister and I would joke about how it took having my mother in a coma to be able to hold her hand and unabashedly tell her how much we loved her. But long before the morphine and the lack of food caught up with her, I was also able to say a number of loving, sentimental things to her, like what a great mother she’d been, and how much I would miss her. Things I had never said before.

I guess you’re never too old to learn something about yourself.

(This piece appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle on May 9, 2010)

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Dr. Death — Up Close and Way Too Personal

April 25th, 2010 — 4:06pm

When my mother was planning how to end her life in 2001, she joined the Hemlock Society and arranged to have one of their “Caring Friends” come to her house. The meeting with Bud, an overweight man in a black suit and bolo tie, is one of the central scenes in Imperfect Endings.

Like the Hemlock-friendly psychiatrist who had prescribed a lethal amount of Seconal for my mother several months earlier, Bud seemed to have no qualms about helping my mother to die. (My mother had suffered from Parkinson’s for many years, but was nowhere near death.) But it was what Bud proposed that disturbed me the most.

My mother would need to procure a plastic bag, tubing and a canister of helium.  On the designated night, he and another volunteer would arrive. My mother should be alone except for any family members who knew about and supported her decision.

“Then,” he drawled, pulling out what looked like a dirty white headband, “your mother puts the plastic bag over her head, feeds the tubin’ up underneath it, and puts this band around her neck to secure it. She then reaches down and releases the valve on the canister of helium. The helium will cause her to fall unconscious in just a few minutes. When she’s dead, we take the plastic bag, the helium and everythin’ and leave the house. You call the medical examiner’s office to certify that she’s dead, and we’re done.”

Much to my relief, my mother seemed to realize that Bud was not the last person she wanted to see on earth and she did not, ultimately, choose this route. But after spending last Saturday night watching “You Don’t Know Jack” on HBO, I had to wonder: If Dr. Kevorkian had been available, would he have been the next person my mother turned to?

Fortunately, I never had to find out as “Dr. Death” was languishing in a jail cell in 2001. Three years earlier, he’d made the rather bizarre decision to kill one of his patients (Thomas Youk) by injecting him with potassium chloride. Up until then, Kevorkian had helped patients kill themselves by flipping the switch on his “mercitron” (a kind of death machine) or inhaling gas – again activated by the patient’s own hand.

Compounding the situation, Kevorkian filmed Youk’s death and gave it to 60 Minutes. Why did he do this? It seems that both he and his cause were fading from the public limelight by then and he couldn’t bear it. In other words, it was a media stunt, pure and simple, one that landed him in jail for eight and a half years. (He was released in June of 2007 at the age of 79.)

Besides being something of a media whore, Kevorkian was also a full-on eccentric with a major social gene missing. “There’s nothing further to be gained from talking to you!” he shouts at Janet Good (Susan Sarandon), a Hemlock Society supporter, who is clearly an ally, but isn’t willing to let him use her house as a site for one of his mercy killings. And he seems to have an almost pathological fear of food.

“This is full of fat and sugar,” he grouses to his lawyer when he is handed a piece of pie. “Are you trying to kill me?” “Just eat the fucking pie, Jack,” the lawyer shoots back, clearly tired of the skeletal Kevorkian’s ascetic eating habits. (In another scene, he growls,“Decaf is for cowards.”)

But while much of the humor in the movie comes from showing Kevorkian’s odd, antisocial behavior, there is clearly much to admire about the man — at least as he is portrayed by the screenwriters for HBO. In fact, the whole movie is something of an apologia, starting with the title, which is a fragment of a longer title: “Until You Know the Whole Story, You Don’t Know Jack.”

So while we see many instances of Kevorkian’s self-aggrandizing behavior, we also see his compassion, even tenderness, when sheparding his patients through the last moments of their lives. “It’s not to late to stop now, my dear,” he tells Janet Adkins, the first woman he helps to die who seems to hesitate before switching the valve on the lethal canister of gas at her side. “You wouldn’t offend me.” And then, when she determinedly pulls the switch, he strokes her hair as she dies, a moment that brought me to tears.

And time and again, we see his deep commitment to ending his patients’ suffering: his deep belief that he is helping them fulfill a basic human right to choose death over suffering. When his sister objects to his helping Adkins because her early dementia makes her a difficult first “test case,” he demands: “But what about her? Who cares what people think. It’s what my patient feels.”

It’s also revealed that much of what motivated Kevorkian was guilt over having allowed his mother to suffer at the end of her life. “I failed her,” he tells Good in a rare moment of introspection. “She once said to me, imagine, Jack, the worst toothache in the world. Now imagine that toothache in every bone in your body.”

This is one of the great strengths of the film: we see Kevorkian’s sense of mission and his compassion, but also his self-delusion and hubris. In the most brilliant scene in the movie, we also see him confront defeat. Having insisted on representing himself against murder charges in the Youk case, he quickly finds himself in way over his head. Unlike previous court cases, he is not being accused of assisted suicide, he is being accused of murder and it’s almost as if Kevorkian cannot comprehend this. Pacino, who is fabulous throughout with his flat midwestern twang and awkward gait, is completely riveting as he leans over the defense table, taking on and off his glasses, his face a study of exhausted defeat.

So why, given all Kevorkian’s strengths, am I relieved that my own mother’s path to “self-deliverance” never led to Kevorkian’s door? Well, just as I hated the idea that “Bud” might have been the last person my mother saw on this earth, I feel the same way about Kevorkian.

This is largely due to one scene that was so disturbing, I only hope to forget it as soon as possible. It happens about halfway through the movie, when Kevorkian has switched from the “mercitron” to using gas. In an attempt to save his meager supply of gas, he builds a plastic box to intensify the effects. In this scene, he places the plastic box over the head of an elderly man with emphysema and then reacts impatiently when the box grows unbearably hot and the poor man rips it off his head, shouting, “Take it off, take it off.” In the end, realizing that he is only coming back to the same hell, he agrees to place the box back over his head. His head soon drops forward against the plastic contraption as his wife cries out in horror.

Having talked to Derek Humphry about the plastic bag/helium option that he describes in the most recent edition of Final Exit, I understand that it does not have to be so terrible. But what really bothered me in this scene was Kevorkian’s cold response, not only when the man was dying, but afterwards when his friend, Neal Nicol, played by John Goodman, chastises him for trying to “cut corners.”

“These are my decisions to make, Neal,” he snarls. “Mine alone.”

This scene was so repulsive to me — perhaps because I can imagine a scenario where that was my mother under Kevorkian’s plastic hood– that for all of the movie’s careful efforts to show Kevorkian in a good — if imperfect — light, I was no longer buying it. I still believe in what he fought for – the legal right to have a physician help you end your life in a quick and compassionate manner – but in the most profound way, getting to “know” Jack, was to find him pretty despicable.

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A “Perfect” Homecoming

March 30th, 2010 — 2:58pm

In two days I’m getting on a plane and flying from San Francisco to Washington D.C., the city where I grew up and where I have regularly returned from the time I was two until my mother’s death in July, 2001. Driving to the airport with my husband and little girls a few days after she died, I remember feeling that not only had I lost my mother, I’d lost my childhood home — and my city as well.

Never in my wildest imaginings would I have guessed that nine years would pass before I returned. Or that I’d be traveling to give a reading from my book about my mother’s death — Imperfect Endings — at her favorite bookstore: Politics & Prose. At the time I left, I was desperate to put the long difficult months leading up to her suicide behind me: to reclaim a normal life with family and friends: a life I could just barely remember. So while I mourned all that I was leaving that day, I was also anxious to go, to move on. And perhaps that explains why it’s taken me so long to return.

But now that I am returning, it seems this trip is an almost perfect confluence of events, starting with Politics & Prose. Not only is P&P one of those bookstores that manages to be both inviting and illustrious at the same time, it’s a place where I have wonderful, happy memories of my mother. When taking walks, going to museums, or shopping, was no longer possible for her, she was always ready to head up to P&P, buy some books and sit in the cafe, talking and thumbing through our finds over tea and muffins. So while I do have some pre-reading jitters, I can’t help but feel that my mother’s spirit will be sitting somewhere nearby, beaming her support — proud of me for having written the book, and for bringing it “home” to this place we both love.

And if she is there, she’ll be among good friends, many of whom will be at the reading. It is primarily for them that I will read. Not only did these people — many of them in their seventies and eighties — love and appreciate my mother when she was alive, they supported her choice to depart her life on her own terms, before nature took its full, brutal course. I have much to thank them for.

My big sister, Sarah (“Hannah” in the book) will be there as well and we are already planning to go to some of our old haunts in the city: the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral, Macomb playground, Beauvoir school, The National Zoo, Ireland’s Four Provinces pub. And to my great joy, it will be the height of Washington’s spectacular spring, a time when every tree and bush sprouts and blooms and there is an almost-indecent lushness everywhere you look.

As my good friend, Peter Samis, reminded me in a text message sent from his travels yesterday: “Drink it in deeply.” And I plan to.

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Readers Write Back

March 23rd, 2010 — 9:55pm

Imperfect Endings has been on the stands for exactly three weeks today and it’s been a whirlwind of media coverage — a feature in The Washington Post, an hour on WBUR, interviews and reviews — but the most gratifying response has come from the many people who have contacted me through my website to tell me their stories of losing parents, many of them from Parkinson’s disease.

In addition to the eloquence of these emails, what has amazed me is that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM wrote to say that they supported my mother’s choice! Not one person questioned her decision to die on her own terms — or mine to support her.

I feel so grateful for this positive response. I have to say that in the months leading up to publication, I worried I was going to get attacked for supporting my mother’s decision to end her life (although I did, for a time, argue against it) and for speaking out in favor of legalized assisted suicide. It’s actually been the opposite. So many people, especially those who have lost parents to Parkinson’s, have expressed gratitude for my writing frankly about her choice, and have told me that — in their experience — my mother spared herself a very tough ending. (Obviously, Parkinson’s varies greatly from person to person and I don’t want to frighten anyone. My mother’s Parkinson’s was actually quite slow to progress and highly manageable for many years; it was only the last year or so that it got difficult for her.)

Of course, a few critics did pop up in the blogosphere. I’ve shown up on a few Catholic blogs (understandable — as, for them, suicide in all its forms is a sin). But how to explain the conservative blogger who blamed my mother’s death on the Democrats and the new healthcare reform bill? (Do I hear the sound of a knee jerking?) This was especially ludicrous as my mother died almost nine years ago!

But today is not about the critics. It’s a day to celebrate  this amazing opportunity to engage in conversation about end of life issues with a wider audience, and to express my gratitude to those of you who took the time out of your busy lives to write to me. Your willingness to share your stories was both illuminating and moving. These first three weeks are dedicated to you!

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