Poignant account of a young woman’s struggle to accept a parent’s dying.
Describing the hardship of watching her mother Jackie slowly succumb to breast cancer after a nine-year battle, Romm (The Mother Garden, 2007) immediately makes it clear which side she’s on: life, at any cost. Throughout this brutally honest account of Jackie’s final three weeks, she derides the hospice and its workers who “build the boat of morphine and pillows” to death. By contrast, she clung to every shred of possibility, every technique or piece of furniture that could prolong her mother’s life and give Romm back the strong woman who raised her. Into her chronicle of these last weeks, the author weaves details of her own life, which was tinged with cancer’s long, erosive mark; her mother was diagnosed when she was just 19. Romm examines her childhood, work and relationships, at times using their reactions to Jackie’s illness as a barometer, at times allowing the cancer to influence her perspective. The author and her father, both tense with grief, weren’t always in agreement as they grappled with the impossible task of doing what’s best for a loved one in pain without sacrificing a single moment of connection. At times, the only bright spot for the author was her new puppy, a bystander to the heartache with an irrepressible joy for life. Romm bemoans the world’s inability to guide us during a time of loss. “Much gets said about healing, but what of the violence of the actual event?” she writes. None of the hospice’s CDs or pamphlets, she found, offered anything but clichés. In response, the final chapter includes 12 blank pages meant to represent one woman’s ordeal as unique and yet collective.
A piercing, heartbreaking reminder that “loss doesn’t end.”