Being Mortal

atul-beingmortal-cover3d1-319x479

The trend for my reading this year seems to be this: heavy.

Recently, I checked out Being Mortal from the library. It’s been on my TBR for awhile, it was checked in, I was looking for something non-fiction and I’ve heard it compared to When Breath Becomes Air, which is one of my favs… so, it seemed like a no-brainer.

I didn’t expect light reading, but I didn’t know that this book would ROCK me.

First of all, it is NOT like When Breath Becomes Air. I mean, I guess it is in the sense that they’re both written by doctors and address death, but they’re totally different books. If you go in expecting WBBA, you’ll be disappointed.

Instead of being a firsthand account of someone dying, Being Mortal addresses death from a somewhat removed standpoint. It discusses how we handle and treat terminal or aging patients. It examines the pros and cons of assisted living and nursing homes. It gives personal accounts of dying patients, including the author’s own father. And, it does everything in a factual, logical way.

Being Mortal is a confrontation on mortality.

It says: here is your body. It will die. Here’s what you need to be ready for. Here’s how to give yourself the best possible life and the best possible death.

The thing that really broke me about this book is the timing…

My mom’s been sick for over a year now. At times, I have more hope than others that she’ll get better. Since her first doctor’s visit, I’ve wished and hoped and prayed that this is all temporary… some trial she’ll endure for a bit and then be released from. Even now, I **still** want that more than anything.

However, while reading this book, she was readmitted to the hospital for another biopsy, which, as per the trend, became more complicated and distressing than expected.

Before reading Being Mortal, I saw my mom’s health journey as a linear path to more and more medical treatments, medicine and interventions until… well, until she was healed. This surgery was just another important step towards normal.

It was a hard thing to accept, but this booked helped me see that my expectations might not be realistic.

I now feel more willing to have the hard conversations and face the realities as they come. Sure, I wish things were better. I wish something would “cure” her. But, now I see that the next medical step may not be the best choice. There will always be one more thing we can do, one more medication, one more test. But, what if that’s not what she wants? What if she decides to be done?

More than anything, I want my mom to be happy. I want her to be comfortable. I want her to feel at peace with her choices. I want her normal to be my normal. I want to respect her and honor her and do whatever I can to make her life easier.

And, when my day comes… because it will… I want the same thing – peace, comfort, love and security. I want to be with my family. I want to be in my home. I want to be surrounded by the people and things I love. I want to leave this world better than I found it and be remembered for the good that I did.

It feels morbid to discuss… morbid to even think about… but, literally – we’re all dying. All of us. And, how we die matters. I think this book helped me accept that more than any other experience in my life.

I’m grateful for reading just the right books at just the right times, even when they’re really, really heartbreakingly difficult.

Mothers & Fathers

Without meaning to, I read a book about mothers and a book about fathers back to back.

The latter I finished as I was sitting at our kitchen table at lunchtime, eating my grocery store sushi, absolutely engrossed in the last few paragraphs of this amazing story. The ending was so good – yet, so heart wrenching – that I felt compelled to read a passage aloud to my poor husband, who wasn’t in the least offended that I was absorbed in a book during his brief lunch break.

“There are things in this world that no human being should be able to endure. We should die of heartbreak, but we do not. Instead, we are forced to survive, to bear witness.” – Noah Hawley, The Good Father

Gaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh! Doesn’t that just KILL you? So true, so succinct, so poignant.

Needless to say, I enjoyed The Good Father. It’s awful and made me feel ill at times, but it’s amazing.

12246894

It started off like a Dateline episode for me. There’s this catastrophic event and a team of people, led by a zealous father, are trying to put it together. Well, I’ll just tell you since it’s on the book jacket… The father is trying to prove that his son is innocent of murdering a United States Senator campaigning for President. So, very Dateline-mystery-ish plot.

But, beyond the mystery, there was just this really beautiful tale about relationships and choices and regret and how humans can be awful and wonderful, whole and broken all at once.

I didn’t want it to end the way it ended. At times, it felt like a slow motion car crash… I could see it coming, but boy, I refused to accept it right up until impact. But, even so, I got it. I understood why it needed to be that way.

Just before reading this story, I read The Mothers by Brit Bennett.

28815371

This one has similar themes, actually. There’s a catastrophic event (two, actually) that impacts everyone in unexpected, devastating ways. This one is also about relationships, choices, consequences and the sometimes moral duality of human nature.

I should have loved it… yet, it wasn’t for me.

I don’t know what it was. I read it till the end. I admired the writing. I understood the characters. I didn’t judge their choices. It’s just that… I didn’t really love anyone enough to get emotionally invested. I wanted to! I really, really wanted to! But, it just didn’t happen. I closed that book feeling like I’d read something important, but knowing it probably wouldn’t stick with me long term.

On the other hand, the “mothers,” which are the church mothers that act as a sort of Greek Chorus throughout the novel… I LOVED them! Honestly, I could’ve had more of them and less of the main characters!

It always fascinates me, what one person loves and another person hates. It always makes me curious when I surprise myself by loving something I thought I’d hate or hating something I thought I’d love. People are curious, aren’t they?

To wrap it up: one book – meh, one book – ammmaazzinngg. Both worth reading.

So My Mom’s a Reader Now

Mom

Most of my earliest childhood memories involve books.

I can remember my dad reading to me (especially this book) in our worn out recliner every night.

I remember my sisters reading to me in bed.

I remember my mom buying me books and singing to me and doing all the wonderful things moms do… But, honestly, not a lot of reading from her.

My mom’s always been more of a creator than a consumer.

Sure, she’ll read her scriptures. She’ll flip through a Woman’s World magazine that she picked up in the grocery store aisle, scanning for recipes or diet tips (my mom LOVES a diet tip!). Oh, and there was that one time she got hooked on a church book series about pioneers and read all nine books faster than anything we’d ever seen.

But, overall, she likes to do things and make things.

On a quiet evening, we’d most likely find her painting or doing needlework or sewing or cooking… never just sitting around and watching TV or reading.

I’ve just always grown up with this belief that my mom is not a reader. (And, I’ve always secretly envied mother/daughter duos who swap books and stories.)

Well, that’s all suddenly changed.

Last year, my mom was diagnosed with an unspecified lung disease. Basically, the arteries in her lungs collect clots that restrict air flow and drastically reduce her oxygen levels. She’s on medication and stays on a constant flow of oxygen. We’re all praying she’ll completely recover and get back to her old self. But, in the meantime, her lifestyle has drastically changed.

Around the time that my mom got sick, my mother-in-law, who is a reader, began funneling books through me to my mom in a show of goodwill.

I dutifully passed them on, but I was fairly certain they’d be returned unread. No way was my mom reading all those books! And, now that she was sick, she’d be even more stir crazy. Sitting and reading would be torturous for her!

Well, the first stack of books came back. Not only had they been read, but my mom wanted to talk about them.

Then the next stack came back.

And then the next.

And, so it’s gone for the past several months.

My mom is a book addict. I am her dealer. My mother-in-law is her supplier.

It’s really the strangest thing.

She was over at my house last weekend and we were talking about books (because, at this point, we’ve read some in common) and I just had this weird sensation come over me that I was actually having quite the fulfilling, bookish conversation with my mom!

I can’t tell you how much I love this.

But, let me try…

I.love.this.

I also love this lady who is my mother. She reminds me all the time that life is meant to be lived and that you’re never too old or too sick or too anything to reinvent yourself.

Today Will Be Different

920x920

I like Maria Semple.

Like, I really, really, really like Maria Semple.

Here’s the reason why.

I feel like Maria Semple gets it. And, then she says it. Yet, she says it in a way that’s fresh, but not too fussy (see Elizabeth Strout… but toooooooootaallllyyyy different content).

I felt that when I read Where’d You Go, Bernadette last year. 

Yes, it was a funny sorta book. But, beneath the funny was this absolutely human story about what it’s like to be a fairly good, but utterly complex, flawed woman.

Today Will Be Different explored similar themes but with a whole new cast of characters.

You have a creative, complicated narrator (Eleanor), who is trying to cope (not altogether successfully) with her past, while trying to figure out (not altogether successfully) what to do with her future. She holds these incredibly honest internal conversations with herself – one part of her urging, pleading, plodding towards something better, the other part acting purely out of emotion and instinct.

You also have an odd child, who remains lovable in his quirkiness. And, might also be gay. Or transgender. Or just original. (But, it’s not really important either way.)

You have a husband that plays a subtle role, but is beloved and well-meaning, nonetheless. And, holy plot twist, Batman! <—- Not really a spoiler alert.

And, then you just go through one crazy day with Eleanor, plus some flashbacks, plus a short graphic memoir-esque set of illustrations (not kidding, but it’s cool).

It’s funny, yes. But, it’s also suspenseful in a careful sort of way. You never quite know what’s coming because life is messy and it sometimes happens like that.

Though the course of her life and… frankly… the events of her day are – at times – unrealistic, they’re also somehow completely honest and heartbreaking, without actually meaning to be. (See: The kid that cracks a joke about something terrible in his life, oblivious to the audience’s uncomfortable pause of pity.)

I don’t know why. I don’t know how. But, this whole recipe… it works! For me, it TOTALLY works!

I don’t know if Maria Semple is for everyone. Maybe she’s not meant to be. Maybe none of us are meant to be.

Either way, can we just celebrate how awesome it is that there are publishers willing to put something this original out there and writers brave enough to create it?

** Slow clap for Maria Semple **

Versions of Us

tvou-american-350

So, I read this book a few weeks ago and I still can’t stop thinking about it.

It explores three different versions of how two characters – Eva and Jim – interact in each other’s lives,  based on the small choices of a seemingly inconsequential meeting.

In version one, they meet, fall in love and get married. Life ensues.

In version two, they meet, fall in love, but Eva soon finds that she is pregnant (out of wedlock! scandalous!) from her previous relationship. She breaks it off with Jim and marries baby daddy. They both live with unrequited love.

In version three, their initial meeting is completely forgettable. She marries her boyfriend (see version two), he partners with someone else and life ensues. But… they periodically bump into each other as time goes by and feel a strange connection.

Initially, the book was a bit complicated to read. I kept having to refer back to what version I was on. It felt a little messy to me, always skipping around. But, eventually, I stopped trying to meticulously track everything and just read each chapter as it was. After a few paragraphs, it became obvious which version I was on and what was happening in that particular timeline.

The writing was solid, the characters were flawed, but lovely and the sheer bounty of life – in each version – was enthralling. At the end of each story, I sobbed… so, like, for a good three chapters… ceaseless sobbing. Then I had to immediately review the book and read all the other reviews and commentary on it.

What I loved about this book is that it “scratched” that what-if question I toy with all the time. I, myself, have often marveled at how interconnected life can be — how one small decision can change the course of everything forever. It’s easy to fall down the “what if this was different” rabbit hole.

I especially love how it ended – all three times. What I took away from it is that some people are just destined to be part of your story and that, ultimately, everything turns out okay in the end. Not perfect, but okay.

Read this if you’re not afraid of complicated story lines and buckets of tear-shedding.

Quirky Works for Me

jonathan-unleashed

So, sometimes I read a book and I like it, but heck if I know why. This is one of those books. I *think* I found it on Pinterest? I wanna say a must-read list for dog lovers? I am the type of person that loves a good dog-centric book. No shame in admitting it. Some people like romance, others just want a puppy or two. (Except, sometimes I feel like authors get a little sloppy and figure… hey… you’re a dog lover and here are cute dogs that you’ll like… so, let’s forget about any sort of plot, pacing or characterization.)

This book wasn’t that way.

It wasn’t sloppy, but it wasn’t mind-blowing either. It didn’t make me cry, didn’t make laugh… but, it was quirky. And, I think I’ve figured out that quirky works for me. I genuinely liked the main character Jonathan. I really liked the dogs. (It bugged me a bit that the cover dog looks like a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and not a cocker spaniel like in the book, but meh…)

I rooted for Jonathan and I was satisfied with the ending, even if it was both far-fetched and predictable.

Sometimes, you just need a book that’s the equivalent of potato salad.

Tasty, predictable, likable potato salad.

When Things Are Too Much

I’m someone who is deeply affected by circumstance.

I wish that wasn’t the case and I’m working on it. But, for now, it’s true.

Generally, when I surround myself with happy things, I’m happy. When I let negativity creep in, I’m sad.

I don’t believe that life can be lived constantly in a positive place. Bad things will happen. Life will spin out of control. Anxiety will grab you by the throat. Fear will stifle your dreams. I believe this is just part of the human existence. To deny it could be spiritually fatal.

Though they say life is about learning how to dance in the rain, I tend to believe life is about recognizing you’re in the middle of a freakin’ storm and figuring out how to get the heck outta there.

So, when things get too much for me, I like to read. In particular, I like to read happy things.

313029

Mitford is a happy place. The people aren’t perfect, but they’re trying. The main character, Father Tim, is a regular guy who makes regular mistakes and has regular triumphs.

Spoiler alert: The climax of the entire book is when the poor rector has his dog stolen (and eventually returned) by some thugs. So, not too heavy a plot in the grand scheme of things.

Mitford was my “chaser” book when I read Columbine.

But, I stayed there awhile.

Life has been too much lately. Too much uncertainty. Too much stress. Too much discontent.

Spending some time in Mitford was the restorative escape I needed until I could get to an emotional higher ground.

I’m glad to know places like that still exist, even if only between the pages of a good book.