A sensitive first-person narrative of one volunteer’s hospice work over an eight-year period.
Bivie and Amber, two dying women, share the limelight in this exploration of what families, workers, and patients undergo when someone is declared terminally ill. Through her journal entries, mystery writer Andreae (Smoke Eaters, p. 84, etc.) describes in detail two contrasting women whose families’ responses to terminal illness also differ. So do Andreae’s feelings about the women. After Bivie’s death, the author begins her story of Amber. In between, eight years have passed. She has had 15 other patients. Her children have grown. We learn this, because Andreae weaves small threads of her outside life into the rich description of her hospice work. She uses a device of occasionally allowing details to remind her of other patients she’s had in between Bivie and Amber. Thus she can detour briefly to describe yet more people. The patients we get to know during their final months or days range in age from their 30s to 102. Andreae makes friends, makes mistakes, makes connections that teach her important, sometimes surprising lessons. Her comparisons of the death experience to the birth experience, of the first visit with a patient to a first date, make it clear that dying is not an event separate from all others, but part of the tapestry of our lives. The section about Bivie was originally published separately by a hospice organization. Andreae’s expansion of that original piece into a book by adding others’ stories does not seem artificial but seamless.
A thoughtful depiction of ordinary lives transformed (but not obliterated) by the shadow of death.