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The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks Hardcover – January 6, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

Robin Romm is no stranger to documenting loss, as her two collections of short fiction attest. Although she didn't set out to document the last weeks of her mother's life for publication, The Mercy Papers distills the emotion of those earlier stories of loss into one highly personal episode. Romm is an adept guide who doesn't hesitate to expose the raw nerve. Her memoir treads a fine line—there is an intense intimacy that can leave the outsider overwhelmed and a bit cold, but there is also a powerful, empowering familiarity to readers who have experienced similar pain and loss. Even with glimmers of humor (particularly relating to her grandfather), The Mercy Papers is a book that can be hard to read—but well worth the effort.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

From Booklist

Romm presents a wrenching chronicle of the three weeks before her mother’s death from cancer. Her skills as a poet are obvious in the lyrical language she uses to describe her sadness and fury as her mother grows increasingly weaker. Though Romm still sees flashes of the bright, witty civil rights attorney her mother was, she cannot avoid detailing her rapid decline. As Romm’s mother succumbs, Romm relies on her dog, Mercy, for comfort and support. She fights attempts by Barb, a nurse, to speed her mother’s passing with drugs and turn it into some sort of strange theater with CDs for the dying and other trappings. All the while, she knows that the clock is moving inexorably toward her mother’s death. Romm’s piercing and personal look at loss will speak to anyone who has coped or is coping with the death of a loved one. --Katherine Boyle

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1 edition (January 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416567887
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416567882
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,159,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Julee Rudolf VINE VOICE on January 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If you've lost a parent, then you're likely to better empathize with author Robin Romm in her "memoir of three weeks." The short sorrowful time was the last of her mother's life, spanning portions of October and November 2004. Robin describes the woman she remembers from her pre-debilitated days as, (p 144) "the one who dispenses legal advice, knows what's showing at the MOMA, cooks cornflake chicken while simultaneously doing laundry and balancing her checkbook, potty-trains the dog, corrects your grammar, counsels sparring couples, and remembers exactly where she puts everything." At nineteen, during her freshman year of college, she learned of her 46 year old mother's grim diagnosis: stage iv breast cancer. One doctor gave her a year, the other, ten. Suffering through a series of treatments, she survived nine years with the insidious disease. Her daughter's story is one of regret (time not spent with Mom); resentment towards her doctor-father, of whom she writes, (p 147) "for the nine years my mother was ill, he checked out;" disdain for the horrid hospice nurse who had (p 3) "no interest in my mothers' life" and seemed to want to dose Jackie Romm with drugs to hasten her death, "She's building a boat to sail my mother out," and a bit of conflict with her mother's long-time lawyer friends, (p 148) "there's competitiveness brewing in the kitchen-who can make Mom lucid, who can spend the most quality time with Mom." Family, friends, and church members rally around the dying woman, trying as best they can to provide comfort. Robin deals in her own way, trying to prolong her mother's life, quarreling with hospice workers and caregivers, and hanging out with friends, amidst a sometimes chaotic household filled with persons and pets.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is Romm's chronicle of her mother's death from metastatic breast cancer at age 56, nine years after the diagnosis. The author is only about 28 when this occurs, and her writing manages to be both unflinching in its portrayal of a harsh reality and egocentric in its depiction. I was 31 and the principal caregiver when my own mother died at home of lung cancer and emphysema, in about the same three-week time frame that this book covers, so I can relate to much of what she said--especially the sense that others are going about the mundane business of everyday life while family members know they are standing on the brink of a precipice. Their lives center on the minutia of physical care where their best efforts are only palliative; they know that within a brief span of time everything will be irrevocably changed, and perhaps not for the better. It is a dire feeling, and one that disconnects them from others not in the same situation.

That said, I could not fully embrace Romm's account. The book was too much about her and not enough about her mother. I would have loved to hear more about the once-vibrant Jackie Romm, feisty civil rights attorney and accomplished woman in her own personal life. But the author is very angry with her mother for dying, and is waging a battle to cheat death: "I don't want my mother to die. She's downstairs now, her breathing labored, her face creased and ashen. She's swollen everywhere and on her sternum you can actually see the skin puffed out where the tumors have grown, like a basketball rising from her chest . . . but no matter haw many times someone tells me a story about `releasing the dying,' I'm not going to say this. I won't be okay." (Wisely, her mother tells her that she doesn't need her permission to die.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The bond between a mother and a daughter is not easily broken -- not at 40, not at 50, and certainly not at 19, when Robin Romm's mother is diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. During the next 10 years, Romm loses her mother by degrees, and, in this memoir, focuses on the last three weeks of her mother's life.

This isn't a pretty, sentimental book; some may take offense in the author's focus on herself as her mother gets ready to "set sail". I am not one of them. To me, the book is painfully, grippingly honest: it shows the strong and messy feelings that occur when death reaches in and yanks the one person who is one of the centerpieces of our lives -- our mothers.

Romm runs the gamut of all emotions: extreme anger at those who appear to be hastening her mother toward the end, fear of being left alone, vulnerability of watching others, such as her boyfriend, go on with day-to-day lives as she is immersed in the death watch. There is even humor; for instance, Romm hears that when the fingers turn blue, there is only four days left to live. Naturally, she's horrified when she sees that her mother's fingertips are blue, only to find out it's because she was eating blueberries.

There is fury here, and awe, and a sense of retreating back to childhood in emotions and thought processes. This is definitely an unflinching look at death; while others prefer to "close the wound, hurry it shut", the author correctedly senses that this loss will be always life-altering. For those who are navigating loss, at whatever age, I also suggest the excellent "An Uncertain Inheritance", a composite of stories by well-known authors about their experiences with various types of loss. The Mercy Papers deserves kudos for its unfailing honesty.
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