A poignant memoir of a daughter’s struggle to accept her mother’s death.
In 2000, Carter’s 75-year-old mother began exploring the possibility of assisted suicide. Having suffered from Parkinson’s disease for 20 years, she didn’t want to face the reality of increasing incapacity. The author explores her own grief and anger as she tried to understand and support the decision. She felt betrayed by her mother’s casual attitude and her unwillingness to consider her daughter’s pain. When she phoned to set the date—“I’ve been trying to find a good time to end things…I was hoping that weekend might work for you”—Carter reluctantly left her husband and two young daughters in San Francisco and arrived in Washington, D.C., on the appointed date, only to learn that her mother had changed her mind. This pattern of vacillation continued for months, as her mother tried to decide how she wanted to die. She demanded that her three daughters be on hand to assist her suicide, despite their unwillingness. Not only did they find it difficult to accept her eagerness to die, but they feared being prosecuted for an illegal act. With a journalistic flair to her prose, Carter chronicles the months from January 2001 until her mother’s death in July, as well as events in her earlier life. She memorably examines the complex dynamics within her dysfunctional family, including the rivalries and bonds between the sisters. Wishing she could stay away, she thought of her mother dying “alone in her big empty bed,” and her “petulance turn[ed] to shame.”
Carter comes to a deeper, more compassionate understanding of her mother’s life, and she is ultimately able to surmount her grief and affirm her mother’s decision.