A son’s memoir about caring for his ill mother during the last year of her life.
Manning (editor: Top of the Order: 25 Writers Pick Their Favorite Baseball Player of All Time, 2010, etc.) unsparingly recounts what happened when his mother, Susan, was hospitalized with cardiac issues complicated by lung cancer and gastroparesis (stomach paralysis). Susan was a single parent and nurse whose kindness, courage and determination inspired everyone who knew her. Heart problems ran in her family, but the heart attack she suffered at 58 caught everyone, including her son, off guard. The book centers on Susan’s life at the three Cleveland medical facilities that became her home for one year. As her health declined, Manning became the parent looking after a mother rendered vulnerable and helpless by her condition. With admirable objectivity and restraint, the author writes about the people, procedures, machines and medications that worked—sometimes at cross purposes—to keep Susan alive. The book is not just a portrait of a woman with a ferocious will to live, but of the American health-care system and how it treats illness and death. Manning punctuates the main narrative with stories about his family, his own life as a writer and caterer in New York and the Cleveland sports teams—the Cavaliers, Indians and Browns—that helped him “differentiate one day from the next.” Moments of levity are few, however, and the story moves unrelentingly toward its inevitable—but for Susan, merciful—conclusion. The intimate details about his mother’s physical struggles and the emotional stresses and strains he and his family suffered occasionally make the book read like a private journal. Paraphrasing a line from Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, Manning admits that he wrote the story “more to get it out my head than for posterity” and as a way “to acknowledge how messy this shit gets.” Nonetheless, the author’s candor and genuine emotion shine through.
Honest and gut-wrenching.