In this memoir grounded in New Age spirituality, a woman revisits the deaths of three pivotal figures, exploring the nature of loss and end-of-life care along the way.
In the introduction to her book, Victoria (It’s Not About You, Except When It Is, 2012, etc.) describes death as “sacred ground, the same sacred space of birth but facing a different direction.” From this singular perspective, she recounts her own deeply personal experiences with the deaths of her mother, father, and mother-in-law, all occurring within a 12-month period during the early 1990s, as well as her encounters with hospices, which provide pain-relief care and other support to terminal patients. The first of these transformative occurrences was the death of her mother-in-law, Mary, with whom she had an uncommonly close relationship. Following an affectionate portrait of Mary’s life, the narrative details her death after a devastating cancer diagnosis, accepted with “grace and resolve” to her last days, attended by her family and helpful hospice workers. The second part of the narrative shows another side of loss, as Victoria learns of her own mother’s death after the fact in a call from her brother, leading to a soul-searching examination of her parent’s life. The daughter of Polish Catholic immigrants who rebelliously married a non-Catholic, the author’s mother remained fiercely independent even after the end of her marriage. Victoria’s errant father is the subject of her final recollection. Absent for much of her life, he returns during his last years, and the author finds herself almost unwillingly having a “Dad” again as she tends him through his final journey. In these three stories, Victoria skillfully captures generations of a family, with all their disappointments and joys, woven together with an analysis of the role of death in life and vice versa. Sections of prose are interspersed with poems, which add depth to the biographies and bring a different, more emotional voice to the narrative. In the poem “Islands in the Snow,” she remembers her father: “After nineteen years, / thank you / for coming back / thank you for / eight snowy days in Maine / you and I and / Daisy Mae and Albert / (your Siamese sweethearts / now mine).” The book ends with a tender sketch of Victoria’s time as a hospice volunteer.
An intimate study of three deaths and the role of hospices in easing transitions.