"The accidental memorist"
March 5, 2010 3:38 PM   Subscribe

When writer Robin Romm's mother was dying of cancer, she started keeping a journal--writing from the trenches. At the time she had no idea it would become a book. The Mercy Papers (excerpt) is a gut-wrenching, painfully honest, and deeply moving account of her mother's last three weeks.

Two interviews with Romm from Poets&Writers, KCRW's Bookworm, and a review from The Rumpus.
posted by liketitanic (31 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
It's the 9th anniversary of my father's death tomorrow, so maybe I shouldn't have read this. But thank you anyway. I'm going to go and cry now.
posted by jokeefe at 3:55 PM on March 5, 2010

jokeefe, I know what you mean. This is the best--best--book about grief and dying of the many I've read, including Didion. I want to send it to all of my confederates in the Dead Parents' Club, but it would kind of be like sending a bomb in the mail. I'm sorry. I am so sorry.
posted by liketitanic at 3:57 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

The 14th anniversary (I can't believe it) of my mother's death from cancer is coming up soon. I don't know if I'll read this. If I do, I'll read it where I won't have to resort to curling up under my desk to sob helplessly.
posted by rtha at 3:58 PM on March 5, 2010

This is great, thanks. I listen to Bookworm, but probably would've missed this one bc I have limited podcast listening time and tend to stick to writers I know.

I "did the day shift" with an ex's mother as she rapidly succumbed to cancer. The excerpt you posted brought back some memories, especially of her "holding on" for her daughter. In our case, we all gathered in the room, said "Everyone's here, we all love you, and you can go now," and like that, she was gone. It was amazing and horrifying and very peaceful.
posted by nevercalm at 4:07 PM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

A lovely post.
posted by puddinghead at 4:28 PM on March 5, 2010

As a card-carrying member of the Dead Parents' Club, it's hard to read that except not only for the reminders but because my relationship with my mother was often rough. Cancer did not magically mend our relationship, but the last weeks of her life were awful and terrifying regardless.

Hospice is wonderful, but it is also frightening. Death becomes very hands-on and personal in a way that never leaves you.

*raises a quiet toast to other members of this fucking terrible club. Fuck cancer, too*
posted by Wuggie Norple at 5:41 PM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thirteen years coming up. For people who can't say, "It's okay if you die now," an alternative could be '"I'll be okay if you die." Even if it takes a while for it to be true.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:49 PM on March 5, 2010

I am with Jokeefee. I am not sure I am ready to read this yet; it's less than a year for my mom, but I will read it sometime. My mom taught me a lot about dignity in her last days. Death is such an important part of life but most of us spend too little time preparing. So many people say they want to go quickly in their sleep, but that to me seems to miss an opportunity. I hope I get to face my mortality, contemplate it and accept it, and of course I hope that opportunity occurs far in the future.

Thanks for the post. I am going to favorite it and hope to revisit it in a year or so when it will be easier to digest, but I know Jokeefee is right in that it is never really going to be easy.
posted by caddis at 5:52 PM on March 5, 2010

I told my dad to go home, too, just after I gave him the last (and large) dose of morphine; he was already unconcious. It was almost exactly nine years ago to the hour. He died about 3 a.m. March 6th.

Nothing more to say, really. Just a kind of linking hands with the people here who know what I'm talking about.
posted by jokeefe at 6:12 PM on March 5, 2010

We spend our whole life dying. I miss my dad, all he would talk about was birthday cards in the hours before he died. Now I save every fucking event related card I get, oh how I miss my old man.
posted by Max Power at 6:32 PM on March 5, 2010

I couldn't finish the excerpt. My dad died on December 23, 2008. His name was Bill.

I was with him in the hospital room when the doctor told him he had a few days left to live. As horrific as that moment was (to say nothing of the days that followed), I'm glad I was with him.

For Bill, and for Robin's mom, and jokeefe's dad, and liketitanic's parent, and rtha's mom, and nevercalm's ex's mom, and Wuggie Norple's mom, and ThatCanadianGirl's parent, and Max Power's dad:
posted by Monsters at 7:17 PM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

July 3, 2009.

I didn't get to see him before he went.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 7:29 PM on March 5, 2010

No matter how many years go by, the loss doesn't abate. It just is, and will be.
posted by honey-barbara at 7:40 PM on March 5, 2010

I'm going to go call my parents.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 7:56 PM on March 5, 2010

I've had a concerned Memail (and thanks, and I don't take it the wrong way at all) about this part of my post: "I told my dad to go home, too, just after I gave him the last (and large) dose of morphine". It was larger than normal, but it wasn't intended to, uh, hasten things. He just hadn't had his usual dosage that afternoon, and I-- illogically, but that's the state you're in-- worried that he might wake up and find himself in pain. Even though he was past waking. But you don't see that at the time. That's all.
posted by jokeefe at 8:03 PM on March 5, 2010

Shite, it looks like the comment was deleted in its entirety. Okay, not too happy about that.
posted by jokeefe at 8:06 PM on March 5, 2010

My mother will have survived metastatic breast cancer for five years this June. She was diagnosed at 46 too. I just keep hoping it will get easier. I know it won't.

posted by polyhedron at 8:14 PM on March 5, 2010

It's there jokeefe. The mods said they wouldn't delete it unless you wanted to.
posted by nevercalm at 8:33 PM on March 5, 2010

And just to clarify, since we're now in-thread with this, I wasn't objecting or judging or addressing it as an issue, but rather just worried that you might be opening yourself to some sort of legal attention.
posted by nevercalm at 8:35 PM on March 5, 2010

(which would sicken me, no matter what actually happened, bc I believe stuff like that is between families and loved ones....)
posted by nevercalm at 8:37 PM on March 5, 2010

It will be twenty years ago this year that cancer took my mom. She's been dead for over half my life, and I've never stopped missing her.

Fuck cancer. And this piece made me cry.

*raises a glass with the rest of you*
posted by Salieri at 8:40 PM on March 5, 2010

About 11 years or so since my mom died of cancer, and a year later a sister-in-law died of same. At that point I'd pretty much had my full of thinking about cancer beyond FUCK YOU, so I hadn't really read much about it since then.

But last year another sister-in-law of mine went through treatment again, (brain cancer, fer chrissakes), and let me tell you, the options that were available to her now that weren't available 10 years ago were nothing short of remarkable. A couple of months she had a new kind of surgery -- not new enough to be called experimental, too new to be considered standard procedure -- that went better than any of us could have hoped for. For now, at least, she's doing fantastic.

And I think back to my mom, who signed up for experimental drugs that wracked her body, that drained her, and she knew they weren't going to SAVE her, but she also knew that she would be a data point that would make the next generation of drugs better.

So much to be learned, but real progress is being made, and as exhausting as the past year has been (and I make no mistake, as much as I love her, I'm just supporting cast in that drama), I'm left with a real sense of hope. And always, undying respect for those whose suffering in the past has made it better for those dealing with cancer now, and in the future.
posted by the bricabrac man at 9:04 PM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Well, to be entirely honest, I just hope my kids will be less self consumed and hysterical to become an obstacle to my comfort and peace of mind, and interfere in my wish to go easy and without pain.
posted by semmi at 10:41 PM on March 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

And just to clarify, since we're now in-thread with this, I wasn't objecting or judging or addressing it as an issue, but rather just worried that you might be opening yourself to some sort of legal attention.

Not to worry, nevercalm, it's nice to know that we're looking out for each other around here. And I was tired and not scanning properly when I was reading, and thought my comment was gone; but I see it's not, so I'll leave it, especially considering that I amended it later on.
posted by jokeefe at 10:56 PM on March 5, 2010

I'd like to sincerely extend my sympathies to any grief-stricken individuals who are dealing with or who have dealt with the passing of very close loved ones. I've been fortunate enough to live nearly 30 years without a close family member dying, but my grandmother is close, so I'm not looking forward to helping my mother through, although I'll be there for her every step of the way. Here's my point: When I'M half-dead, if my daughter is shaking me all the time, yelling at me "Are you there? Hello?! Are you there Dad?!!" I think I would tell her "STOP" too.. and if my kid is so whiny and selfish as to be thinking only of themselves when I'm about to croak, then man, what fun is that? When my dad's on his death bed I'll be handing him a joint and playing an old blues record, not bitching.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:54 AM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I knew I should not have opened that link.....

but when you watch someone very close to you go through the hell as they slowly lose the battle to cancer; you feel drawn to share the grief and the eventual closure (if such a thing truly exists) that death (from cancer) can bring. While it has been 9 years since the passing of my mother, and while life seems to move ahead, moments like these remind us that we can never forget and can not lose hope. Even thinking about these words are bringing back those memories that we like to bury but help to define us.

so yeah... I knew that I should not have opened that link..but I am very appreciated for it.

To everyone who is going through, or gone through and remembering, the battle and to those who are / where apart of it, I share a tear and offer you both my deepest sympathies and deepest respect.
posted by Prunedish at 3:06 AM on March 6, 2010

Sorry, I don't think I'm up to reading that link yet, but I still feel like giving everybody here a hug or a stiff drink, as appropriate. Sometimes the world just bites, you know?
posted by LastOfHisKind at 5:44 AM on March 6, 2010

Thank you, Monsters.

. for your Dad too. And all our parents.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:58 PM on March 6, 2010

His last days were not the best we'd had. He, in a hospice, and me, running a small family business in his absence.

Mom had passed two years prior, and he had developed his disease 14 months after her passing. Now, he lay dying in this hospice.

My stepsister had called me that day, and said I should come, for he was sure to die that night. I asked her if I had time to finish work, take a last shower and eat. She said yes........

Long story much shorter than I want, or that I think it deserves, I was asked by my step mom if I wanted some time alone with him. I said yes, and walked into the room with him.

I grabbed his hand, and said an out loud prayer for him, which, in a nutshell, I told him it was okay to leave us, and asked God to tell him so.

He, on His death bed, and messed up on entirely too much pain, and morphine, nodded twice, then quit breathing.

He agreed with my prayer for him.

They do hear us, through their pain.

We will hear the words of others, also, if, and when, that time comes.
posted by Gottfried Mind at 8:15 PM on March 6, 2010

My thanks to the OP.

My mom is dying of pancreatic cancer. The excerpt was enough to allow me to see that it's not just me feeling this way; I have the book on reserve at the library, ready for me to pickup today.

Thanks again.
posted by dwbrant at 8:21 AM on March 11, 2010

Gottfried, seriously, that is touching. Helpful reminder that the same situation will apply when our time comes.
posted by dwbrant at 8:34 AM on March 11, 2010

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