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

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 ...

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

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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 . .

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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 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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439148242
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 3/2/2010
  • Edition description: Simon & Schuster
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 9.52 (w) x 6.34 (h) x 1.04 (d)

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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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.

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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 12, 2010

    wonderful book

    I loved this book. It was a a page-turner that addressed a serious subject with honesty and humor. I wanted to jump right into the story, have my say, befriend the characters...a tribute to Carter's ability to create a world with her writing. I was truly sad when the book ended, because it meant I had to say goodbye. a great read !

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2010

    Exquisitely Written, Invaluable Book

    Imperfect Endings is a memoir about a daughter's struggle to support her mother's decision to end her life after years of illness. The author, Zoe Carter, writes with enormous emotional clarity of their family life and the ways in which she cared for her mother in her final days. Carter manages to infuse the pages, which deal with a serious subject matter, with searing wit and universal family stories. This is an exquisitely written, invaluable book for all those who have, or will one day experience, the death of someone they love.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 31, 2010

    Not to be Missed!

    I loved Imperfect Ending - it is an absorbing, poignant and well written book. I love how Carter takes a situation that people tend to deal with in a black and white way and writes about it in a really personal, emotionally nuanced way.

    Aside from dealing honestly with the issue of her Mother's decision to end her life, it is also a beautiful mother daughter story. Their relationship changes and evolves as they come to terms with her mother's decision. You come to understand both of them and love them both through the process.

    I think it's a successful memoir partly because it reads like a novel. I find with with most memoirs that I lose interest about half way through but this is a story you absolutely stay with till the end. It is insightful, heart warming, and also honest and painfully real at times. Not to be missed!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2010

    A beautiful memoir whose wit provides a delight unexpected for its topic

    I tore through this book. Ms. Carter delivers a portrait of her family moving with grace and good humor through what would otherwise seem an unimaginably wrenching situation. Carter shows great skill in rendering multiple voices of her family members. It was a delight to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 14, 2010

    Page-turning account of heart-wrenching dilemma

    Zoe Carter is a wonderful writer. She succeeds in creating page-turning suspense throughout this book--even though we all know what the end will be. This is the story of the dilemmas facing the loving daughter of a woman who wants her children to assist her in committing suicide. The reader becomes engrossed with Carter's struggle to find the right way to react during the last few months of her mother's life. We empathize as her feelings shift--sometimes accepting, sometimes rejecting, sometimes opposing and sometimes trying to ease--her mothers steps to take her own life.
    For those who are in favor of the principle of assisted suicide, this account of one woman's personal journey underscores the complexity of the issue. At the same time, it surely creates a broader and more sympathetic understanding on the part of those who are opposed to this and other morally-ambiguous issues.

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  • Posted July 15, 2010

    Someone must get this book into the hands of Ron Howard or Penny Marshall, stat!!!

    Riveting and intimate, this deeply moving and personal story allows one to escape into another reality. Exquisite depictions engaging all of the senses bestows the reader with the experience of being Zoe, past and present. Pulled in from the first few words and grieving at the last because, alas, it was all over . . . will there be a sequel?! What happened with her mother's caregivers? Her mother's friends? The eldest sister? How is she and her family doing now? I WANT A MOVIE!!! Perhaps a Ron Howard or Penny Marshall movie with Rene Russo playing Zoe Fitzgerald Carter. Thank you so much, Zoe, for putting your neck out and risking personal repercussions on this controversial subject. It is about time for all to see the compassion and unconditional love required in allowing a loved one the dignity to choose their own ending; a dignity we already offer our beloved canine and feline companions.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2010

    Could Not Put This Book Down

    I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up Zoe Carter's memoir Imperfect Endings. It tells the story of how her mother asked her to help her end her life and Zoe's subsequent struggles with how to deal with this incredibly difficult request.
    Well, I could not put this book down, literally, I was reading through meals and into the night until I reached the very end. I haven't been touched by a book like this in years.

    It's really a book about family and the dynamics of family life. Where Carter is so good is in her ability to create such wonderful insight into the relationships between family members by describing what first appears to be a humdrum scene. It charts honestly the relationship between herself and her two sisters through her childhood and then as adults, looks at how their mothers request to die both brings these three sisters together and pushes them apart.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    a beautiful book

    This is a beautifully written book about a fascinating topic -- how do you respond when a parent wants to end their life? Carter brings a light touch to a tough topic and manages to weave in riveting sub-plots about her warring sisters, her philandering father, and an adolescent eating disorder. Thought-provoking, moving and surprisingly funny. A great bookclub selection!

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    Posted September 16, 2010

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    Posted June 15, 2010

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    Posted April 12, 2010

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    Posted June 12, 2010

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