The End of Your Life Book Club

As soon as I heard about the book, The End of Your Life Book Club, I wanted to read it. I sometimes judge books by their covers, but I always judge books by their titles–and this was an intriguing title.

Reading the summary, I learned that the book was meant to be read by me. The author, Will Schwalbe, a book publishing maven, writes this memoir about his experiences of being in a book club with his mother, who is dying of pancreatic cancer.

I felt an automatic kinship to Will, the way I do to anyone who has lost a parent. I pictured Will and I seated across from one another at a diner, tea and toast between us, sharing a knowing look.

But as I continued to read the book, I found myself routing against Will. I was mad that he was in his 40s, compared to my 20, when his mom was dying, and that his mom was 75 to my mom’s 59. I was mad that his mom was a saint, building libraries in Afghanistan and raising refugees in her home, whereas my mom was a small-town saint, teaching special ed children. I was mad that he’d had an editorial profession and wherewithal to recognize their experience as a book early on and capture the detailed memories necessary to bring a story to life. I was mad at him for having a book to hand to anyone at any time and say “Here. This is what I went through, and this is how special and remarkable my mother was.”

As I neared the end of the novel, my jealousy reached an ugly peak: I wanted my mom to have lived longer. My mom had survived 2.5 years with pancreatic cancer–a miracle for a disease known to massacre people in 3 to 6 months. As Will’s mom’s health declined after 18 months, I felt a sense of relief. He’d won at everything else; at least I had this. 

Immediately, I felt ashamed. I pictured us again at that diner, the toast and knowing look shared between us. How could I brag that I’d trumped him? We were both on the same team, regardless of age and career status and how long or short we’d had with our moms. On the team of loss, we are all created equal. If this blog has taught me anything, isn’t it that?

So I’m sorry, Will, for thinking such cruel thoughts, despite loving your story and characters wholeheartedly. I will take you to the diner anytime–my treat.

Mark Ramel