Friday, October 19, 2012

Will Schwalbe, Your Mom Must be So Proud

Please, please, dear readers, don't let the title of this marvelous book put you off. It is the most life affirming book I've read this year. Will Schwalbe's The End of Your Life Book Club will definitely be on my list of books to discuss at the library next season. If you've been living under a rock and haven't heard the hullabaloo about this then take my word for it, it's no hype. I'm a very slow reader, but this one? Devoured in 2 evenings and an afternoon off.

Will Schwalbe's mother, Mary Ann(e) Schwalbe, was a mover and a shaker to her very last breath. An amazing woman, ahead of her time, she worked at various places of higher learning, eventually taking a position in the admissions offices of Harvard and Radcliffe. Yeah, not your average gal.

But her most lasting accomplishment, aside from her extended family, was likely her work with war refugees in Bosnia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In fact, my fellow book lovers, she realized her final dream, funding the building of a library in Kabul for all the young people she met and fell in love with through her work, during her treatment for pancreatic cancer.

For anyone who isn't aware, the administration of chemotherapy is a long, drawn out affair that can run anywhere from 4 to 6 hours on a good day. Some folks sleep or stare at the television but Mary Anne and Will read books - wonderful tomes - some deep and difficult like Thomas Mann, others light but luminous like Alexander McCall Smith. As I read I had a notebook beside me to transcribe the titles I wasn't familiar with, adding them to my lengthy "to read" lists.

Through Will's loving memoir of this precious 18 months with his mother, sharing thoughts and ideas as they never had before, he allows us to meet this remarkable woman and truly feel that we've gotten to know her. Humor, spunk, a dash of imperiousness, and an open heart, blaze off the page. I don't think that anyone could read this without thoughts of their own parents, especially if one has had the privilege to be with them during the process of living while dying.

Will Schwalbe has written a paean to his mom but even more to the power of books, words, and literature, to comfort, to provide respite from pain, to challenge us to think deeply and share widely, something we book bloggers and readers truly understand.

Without proselytizing, this is also a shout out to the dedicated men and women who work in Hospice and palliative care around the country. Through Will, Mary Anne cries out for health care reform. As decidedly ill as she was, she never forgot those who weren't as fortunate to have excellent insurance and access to the best that Sloan Kettering had to offer.

There truly isn't a single "down" moment in this beautiful tribute to the woman Will describes as like an air traffic controller, always making sure that her kids, grand kids and co-workers had what they needed when they needed it, planning parties and travels until her strength ran down, and even then advising Will on how to write and send responses to the condolences that she knew would come flooding in at the news of her death.  Don't miss the opportunity to spend a few days in Mary Anne's orbit!


Lisa May said...

I just read this & posted a review as well. An amazing book.

Sallyb said...

Oh, I'm going right to your review Lisa. I seldome want to make a fool of myself over a writer but I do so want to email him to tell him how proud his mom would be.

Sallyb said...

Oops, "seldom."

Lisa May said...

Your review really brings out Mary Anne's personality, and the positive, life-affirming quality of the book. I think you should email him :)

Paulita said...

Ok, I've apparently been living under a rock because I haven't heard about this one, but you make it sound compelling.
I know in the past you've participated in France memes, so I wanted to invite you to play along with my new France meme on Mondays. Here's My Dreaming of France meme