Health writer and consultant Collier describes with loving frankness her mother’s last year.
A single mother in the disapproving 1950s, Earline Comer was a strict disciplinarian with strong ideas about everything from fashion to dating, all of which she expected her daughter to heed. There were tensions between them as Andrea grew up, raised by her maternal grandparents while her mother worked, and after Earline married John Terry, when Andrea was 12. Often vexed by her mother’s feistiness and attitude, disliking her stepfather, she was glad to go away to college. But when Earline called in July 1992 to say she had cancer, Andrea—now married to Darnay Collier and living in Lansing, Michigan, with their two children—immediately decided it would be best if Mother came to stay with them. John Terry couldn’t handle Earline’s illness, and so Andrea became her nurse and gatekeeper, the person who accompanied her to doctor’s appointments, sat through surgery, and read all the literature on stage-four ovarian cancer, which was Earline’s diagnosis. She also had to work and deal with her own children, who were bewildered by what was happening to their grandmother. The chemotherapy seemed to work, and Collier was momentarily sanguine; when Mother produced her old Barbie dolls, she found comfort in adding to her vintage collection. Mother and daughter took a trip to Las Vegas, where Andrea attended a Barbie show. But Earline fell ill there, and the deathwatch began in earnest upon their return to Michigan. Friends and relatives made final calls; helped by a splendid hospice worker, Andrea made Earline’s last days as meaningful and comfortable as possible. Despite all the horribly vivid details about terminal illness and the grueling demands it places on family, this is at heart the story of a daughter making peace with her mother.
Unflinchingly honest and always perfectly pitched, neither sentimental nor gratuitously morbid.