A portrait of the author’s late mother that focuses mainly on her decline in her final days.
Debut author Bloom’s mom suffered from a persistent cough, which was diagnosed as being caused by pulmonary fibrosis—a disorder in which the lungs fill with scar tissue. Four years later, at the age of 67, she was struggling with her memory and motor functions, so Bloom, a registered nurse, quit her job to be involved in her daily care. As her mother’s condition worsens, the narrative slows to address one month per chapter, then decelerates further, dividing months among several chapters. This structure gracefully mirrors how a waning life slows down, forcing one to focus on small details. Bloom notes how gifts, such as a pedicure or eyeglass frames that hid a cannula, meant a lot to her mother and how using a cherry-red wheelchair and decorating a den like a Native American sweat lodge softened the sadness of immobility. The book also elegantly explores the past, showing how one memory transports the author into a related, older one. For instance, when Bloom’s mother is confined to a hospital bed, it takes the author back to her own six weeks of bed rest during high school—which were only made tolerable by her mother’s love. Bloom recognizes that her mother always “tried to teach me to pause” by arranging a beach trip to see a grunion run, for example, or finding time for a cup of tea with friends. The book’s key message is that one should slow down and appreciate each remaining day. There’s an effective recurring metaphor of a bridge as a crossing into death, and she tells of using dragonflies as a reminder to let go of anger. It’s unfortunate, though, that there are so many clichés in such a short volume: “running on empty,” pots boiling over, “the elephant in the room,” and so on. That said, most chapters do offer pithy, useful pieces of advice.
A relatable, tenderly observed account of the “sacred joy” of tending to the dying.