Though Mary Gordon wrote the book Circling My Mother in 2007, I only now just read it. Her mother had a fascinating life — she was a career woman long before most women, a polio survivor, a mother who treated her daughter like an adult and sang the love she could not speak. But as Gordon points out in the book:
“Her end was very grim. She lost her hysterical fastidiousness, she refused to bathe. Her house was filthy and stank of cigarette smoke. She stopped using the toilet; she would no longer wear her brace.”
The mother spent a decade of her life in a nursing home. The mother's sisters suffered from dementia, too, so the older generation in Gordon's family had hard end-of-life years.
We often hope we'll live well to the end, or live well as close to the end as possible. But how many of us get the wish? And what lessons are to be learned when the opposite happens? Gordon created a beautiful, instructive book from her mother's grim end. In a 2007 interview, she said of the dead:
I really feel surrounded by my beloved dead, and there are some times where it’s almost literal, and particularly with my father, where I can say, “Hold my hand.” I believe that that love never ends, and if you loved and you were beloved, they’re with you.