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Imperfect Endings: A Daughter's Tale of Life and Death
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Imperfect Endings: A Daughter's Tale of Life and Death

by Zoe FitzGerald Carter
 

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• Wrenching, provocative, and surprisingly funny: After twenty years of living with terminal illness, Zoe’s mother decided to end her life—and asked her three daughters for their assistance. For months, the decision drags on as her mother changes her methods and schedule, and the negotiations stir up old memories, sibling rivalries, and

Overview

• Wrenching, provocative, and surprisingly funny: After twenty years of living with terminal illness, Zoe’s mother decided to end her life—and asked her three daughters for their assistance. For months, the decision drags on as her mother changes her methods and schedule, and the negotiations stir up old memories, sibling rivalries, and questions about family loyalty. Eventually there is compromise and courage and Zoe’s mother has her happy — if imperfect — ending..

• A controversial subject—assisted suicide: Zoe and her sisters struggle to accept the imminent death of their mother, circling around the same questions: Who will help her? Will they go to jail? Can they bear to let her die alone? With a doctor prescribing lethal doses of sleep medication, a visit from a member of the Hemlock Society’s “Final Exit Network,” and the temptations of overdosing on morphine, the issues and people in Imperfect Endings are at the center of the debate on assisted suicide. .

• An award-winning new voice: An acclaimed journalist, Zoe won first place in the 2008 Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association literary contest and was a finalist at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference for Imperfect Endings . .

Editorial Reviews

In today's era of fluid morality, is it right for a mother to ask her grown children to support her decision to end her life? To be at her side at the moment she's chosen? With inspiring honesty and fortitude, Carter explores this complex issue. Her mother, Margaret, suffered with various ailments (including Parkinson's) for more than a quarter of a century.

Always her mother's favorite, Zoe, married and a mother of two, wrestles with grief at letting her mother go, as well as with rage and frustration as her mother repeatedly changes the date of her demise and the means of her exit. Does Margaret really want to die? Or is her behavior simply a bid for attention? What role is expected of Zoe and her two sisters, as well as their spouses and children, in this final act?

In Imperfect Endings, Carter comes to see her mother as a woman of steadfast courage who struggled to create a meaningful life, and that her decision to die is merely a part of the life she chose. Processing her own grief, Carter finds an unexpected resilience. With humor, candor, and clarity, she lays out an engrossing tale of a sympathetic family that, in the face of profound loss, taps into remarkable reserves of love and fortitude.

Carter's depiction of her own life-and-death drama may well serve as a guide for families facing similar challenges.

"Wise and moving." —Julie Metz, author of Perfection

From the Publisher
“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

“Carter tackles a depressing subject with dark humor and heart.”Booklist

"Imperfect Endings raises difficult questions about love and loyalty, but it is written with such style and sympathy that it is difficult to put down.”San Francisco Chronicle.com

"A beautifully written story of pain and loss, spiked with subtle humor and gentle wisdom."—Judy Bachrach, thecheckoutline.org

"Articulate and exceptionally written, focusing on humor and emotional honesty. . . . It's quite a wonderful experience to read about Margaret's life and, in the end, [Imperfect Endings] becomes a tribute to a lovely woman who made a brave choice. . . . If you read this, you will never forget it."—Bookreporter.com

"Death, by definition, is final. . . . [T]he process of dying is where the real pain, physical and emotional, lies. Carter expertly examines this turmoil and all its accompanying angst, frustration, resentment and introspection. . . . The depth and breadth of the analysis sets this book apart."—CultureMob.com

Publishers Weekly
A deceptively cheery tale about her mother’s plans to end her own life underscores the author’s conflicted role in filial caring and responsibility. Carter’s mother, a widow living in Washington, D.C., had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for more than 20 years, and by 2001 had grown debilitated and depressed about her physical helplessness; she had joined the Hemlock Society and was actively making plans to kill herself, to the consternation of her three daughters. Carter, who is the youngest of the sisters, living in San Francisco with her husband and two small children, seemed the closest emotionally to her mother, and flew back and forth to accommodate her erratic schedule at “ending things.” Armed with a lethal supply of Seconal and morphine, the mother nevertheless vacillated about what to do, as her daughters (and their partners) debated the effectiveness and legal ramifications of her assisted suicide, even suggesting she was being manipulative and controlling. Although there are poignant memories of childhood and early family life, this memoir perhaps unavoidably dwells on the author’s needs and wishes, rather than the mother’s. In the end, the family rallied around her painful decision, and though Carter attempts to preserve her mother’s dying dignity, her account frequently jars, with its grimly glib celebratory tone. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
A poignant memoir of a daughter's struggle to accept her mother's death. In 2000, Carter's 75-year-old mother began exploring the possibility of assisted suicide. Having suffered from Parkinson's disease for 20 years, she didn't want to face the reality of increasing incapacity. The author explores her own grief and anger as she tried to understand and support the decision. She felt betrayed by her mother's casual attitude and her unwillingness to consider her daughter's pain. When she phoned to set the date-"I've been trying to find a good time to end things . . . I was hoping that weekend might work for you"-Carter reluctantly left her husband and two young daughters in San Francisco and arrived in Washington, D.C., on the appointed date, only to learn that her mother had changed her mind. This pattern of vacillation continued for months, as her mother tried to decide how she wanted to die. She demanded that her three daughters be on hand to assist her suicide, despite their unwillingness. Not only did they find it difficult to accept her eagerness to die, but they feared being prosecuted for an illegal act. With a journalistic flair to her prose, Carter chronicles the months from January 2001 until her mother's death in July, as well as events in her earlier life. She memorably examines the complex dynamics within her dysfunctional family, including the rivalries and bonds between the sisters. Wishing she could stay away, she thought of her mother dying "alone in her big empty bed," and her "petulance turn[ed] to shame."Carter comes to a deeper, more compassionate understanding of her mother's life, and she is ultimately able to surmount her grief and affirm her mother's decision.Agent: Flip Brophy/Sterling Lord Literistic

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439148242
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
03/02/2010
Edition description:
Simon & Schuster
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
9.52(w) x 6.34(h) x 1.04(d)

Read an Excerpt

Imperfect Endings

A Daughter's Tale of Life and Death
By Zoe FitzGerald Carter

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2010 Zoe FitzGerald Carter
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781439148242

View


JANUARY 2001


I don?t have to answer the phone. On my knees in the bathroom, daughters just settled into the tub, I have the perfect excuse to ignore it. Let the machine pick it up instead. But I push off my knees and head for the door, my brain several steps behind my body as it usually is by this time of day.


Only then do I pause, reluctant to leave the steamy warmth of the bathroom, the giddiness of my naked children who are lolling at one end of the tub, pouring water on each other. At four and eight, Lane and Clara are hardly at risk for drowning, but I remind them to be careful?keep the water in the tub, hold off on the shampoo?and step out into the bedroom.


Shading my eyes from the blinding late-day sun, I cross the room, glancing out at the glimmering strip of the San Francisco Bay and, just beyond it, the hazy outline of the Golden Gate. Four years on the West Coast and this view of water and sky still thrills me.


I pick up the phone, annoyed with myself for answering it, sure it?s someone calling to either sell me something or beg something from me.


?Oh, there you are! Have I caught you at a bad time?? It?s my mother. Her voice sounds cheerful and a little excited, as if she has good news. ?I was just looking at my calendar and wondering if you could come to D.C. the first weekend of February.?


?I?m not sure. I?ll have to check. What?s up?? I drop onto the bed, heart beginning to clamor. I know what?s up.


?Well gosh, honey, I?ve been trying to find a good time to end things as you know, and I was hoping that weekend might work for you. I haven?t called your sisters yet, but of course I want them here too. And your girls if you can bring them. I?m still working out the details, but??


?Jesus, Momma,? I hiss, cupping my hand over my mouth so Clara and Lane can?t hear me. ?You make it sound like a family reunion!?


?Well, there?s no reason to get huffy, Zoe,? she says. ?I can?t plan anything unless I know you girls are available. Can you just take a quick peek at your calendar??


?No, I can?t! I?m in the middle of giving my kids a bath, I don?t have my calendar, and I can?t think about this right now.?


?Fine.? Her irritation is palpable and for a moment there is silence. ?So when can you call me back??


I want to say never. I will never call her back if she insists on talking about killing herself. But I think of her lying alone in her big empty bed, of her dying alone because her daughters weren?t willing to show up, and my petulance turns to shame.


?I?ll call you tomorrow.?


?Okay, sweetie.? Her voice is cheerful again. ?That would be great. Talk to you then!?


I stand up and look out the window, the sounds of splashing and laughter faint in the background, as if my daughters?or, for that matter, my entire life?had just receded into the distance. I watch the last burning rays of sunlight disappear behind Mount Tamalpais, the vast, glorious landscape slowly turning from gold to gray.


? 2010 Zoe FitzGerald Carter



Continues...

Excerpted from Imperfect Endings by Zoe FitzGerald Carter Copyright © 2010 by Zoe FitzGerald Carter. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Frances Dinkelspiel
"Imperfect Endings raises difficult questions about love and loyalty, but it is written with such style and sympathy that it is difficult to put down."--(Frances Dinkelspiel, San Francisco Chronicle's "City Brights" blog)
Judy Bachrach
"A beautifully written story of pain and loss, spiked with subtle humor and gentle wisdom."--(Judy Bachrach, of the checkoutline.org, and author of Tina and Harry Come to America: Tina Brown, Harry Evans, and the Price of Power)
Julie Metz
"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. 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)
Paula Span
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)
Kate Lehrer
"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)

Meet the Author

Zoe FitzGerald Carter is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and has written for numerous publications including New York magazine, The New York Observer, Premiere, and various national magazines. Imperfect Endings is her first memoir. It won first place in the 2008 Pacific Northwest Writer's Association's literary contest and was a finalist at The San Francisco Writer's Conference. Zoe lives in Northern California with her husband and two daughters.

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