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Imperfect Endings: A Daughter's Tale of Life and Death Hardcover – March 2, 2010
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After living with Parkinson’s for 20 years, Carter’s headstrong mother, Margaret, decides she wants to end her life—and have her three daughters by her side when she goes. It’s a decision that leaves Carter, the youngest and long the favorite child, in distress. Will her mother really go through with it, and if so, how soon? Margaret, it turns out, has already contacted the Hemlock Society. Bookshelves loaded with literature about death and dying further attest to her convictions. Carter, who lives in Northern California, frequently visits Margaret in Georgetown, doing her best to stay composed. (It’s especially difficult when her mother keeps changing the date on which she wants to die.) Eldest sibling Katherine distances herself from the situation, while sister Hannah is a reliable source of moral and emotional support. Carter alternates the account of her mother’s final months with chapters about her childhood, complete with tales of sibling rivalries and her alcoholic, womanizing father. Carter tackles a depressing subject with dark humor and heart. --Allison Block
“Carter coaxes beauty from the bleak in this book about the months after Margaret, who has Parkinson’s, tells her three girls she plans to ‘end things’ and wants them to be there when she does. Ultimately, in losing her, Carter finds a mother she never thought she’d know.” —People
“Carter’s memoir about her terminally ill mother’s decision to end her own life becomes a bittersweet tale of how Carter and her sisters coped with their mother’s botched efforts, their own sibling rivalries, the ongoing controversy over assisted suicide, and the hard, final task of acceptance.”—Elle
"An engaging and insightful tale of familial love, understanding, and forgiveness, shot through with a surprising amount of wit."—The Boston Globe
"I could quote from the book all day. . . but instead I’ll just recommend that those intrigued by the subject spend a little time with the ailing but ferocious Margaret and her daughters. A decision to die can sound romantic or it can sound repugnant. Carter shows us what it was like in reality."—Paula Span, The New York Times.com
“The questions that rise from her story are urgent, important and timely…sharply focused, engaged with essential ethical questions…the end of the book is so full of grace and acceptance that one might forget the memoir began with such urgent, roaring questions.”—San Francisco Chronicle
"Zoe Carter is a luminous writer with a dramatic story to tell. With wisdom, poetry and dark humor, Zoe describes her ailing mother's courageous decision to end her life. In years to come, plenty of sons and daughters will face the same moral and practical dilemmas as Zoe's family; Imperfect Endings, with its wit and love, will provide an invaluable resource, as well as remain a fascinating, fabulously compelling read." —Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She's Not There and I'm Looking Through You
"In her wise and moving memoir, journalist Zoe Carter tackles a difficult subject -- her mother's decision to end her own life after years of severe illness. Under what circumstances can her family make peace with this choice? Many of us will find ourselves facing this kind of dilemma as our parents move towards death, and I cannot imagine a better guide than this thoughtful, compassionate book." —Julie Metz, author of Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal
"I love this book! Zoe Carter has taken what could be a very sad story and turned it into something beautiful and incredibly insightful. Her portrayal of her mother is wonderful, and reveals in moving and illuminating detail a slice of Washington life." —Kate Lehrer, author of Confessions of a Bigamist: A Novel
"First-time memoirist Carter comes close to perfection in this chronicle of her mother’s quest to orchestrate her own assisted suicide. . . .With surprising humor and sensitivity, Carter presents the struggle to come to terms with mortality and family dynamics."—Library Journal (starred review)
"A poignant memoir."—Kirkus Reviews
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I know it took more than a little courage for Zoe Carter to write this provocative slice of life. Imperfect Endings meant paring familial façade to the bone and sucking out the marrow, which she did unabashedly.
How does a daughter say, "Yes, Mom, I'll watch you die slowly by your own hand." I'll be a party to your staged sit-in with death.
Hauntingly beautiful are the two words that washed over my soul when I finished reading Zoe Carter's Imperfect Endings. A true page turner, brought together through a dynamic flow of the highs of love and tenderness, and the lows of anger and sadness, revealing what it takes to be, at once, a mother and a daughter.
I could see both sides as the drama unfolded: the mother's perspective, as she desired to make her exit --actually to direct it, while maintaining a modicum of dignity; and the three daughters' reluctance to come to terms with their mother's wishes and say goodbye to Momma. Throughout much of the memoir, a cloak of angry sadness hung from Zoe's shoulders--she was deemed the caretaker, ever flying from coast to coast, always at her mother's beck and call, while growing numb by degrees to her mother's flirtatious and ever changing dates with death. Zoe was the "good" daughter--but also a woman conflicted by daughterly duties over shadowing those of being a wife to a man trying not to lose his patience, and mother to young daughters of her own, needing her attention.
Fluctuating between flashbacks of childhood memories and present day dilemmas, Zoe creates authentic scenes that strip away allusion to expose the raw reality of the family's intimate workings. The three daughters' angst for their parent's past transgressions and weaknesses was palpable, and their reckoning of their mother's pretenses and denial, although heartbreakingly understood, at least by two of the sisters, stayed unresolved.
But, in the final days, as their mother, Margaret, slipped away, the atmosphere rang clear with tenderness and acceptance as Zoe's arms, gently enfolded a feather of a woman as the parade passed by, and songs from her lips sent Momma's soul soaring.
This is a from-the-heart-account of three sisters and a dying mother who wishes to end it all at home and with dignity. The sister have three diffent views on whether, when and under what circumstances this may or should occur.
How they deal with the mother, with each other and with death is a subject that should be of active interest and proactive consideration by every one who has a mother or a father. Or, who is approaching similar decisions for themselves.
My father rejected cancer treatment which would, in all probability, have lead to him living an additional six months at the least to two years at the most with constant surgeries and interventions. He chose to go home and starve himself in the presence of his children and with the support of the hospice workers. It took about two weeks. His decision was made public and over 150 collegues, friends and family came by the house for a last visit.
It was a wonderful death, given that all men must die, and we left no unfinished business between us or between my sister and me.
That's what this book is about. I've been in the writer's place, exactly, and her story rings very true to me.
Read this book. If you are older, give it to your children; if you are younger, give it to your parents.
I am Virgil Taylor's son.
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