book reviews, healthcare, love, marriage

A review of Amy Bloom’s beautiful love story, In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss…

Amy Bloom is not the most conventional person, but I do notice that we have a few things in common. Like me, she is educated as a social worker. Unlike me, she actually practiced social work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who does psychotherapy. Like me, Amy Bloom is a writer. Unlike me, she’s written books that actually got published and have landed her on best seller lists. I have not read any of Bloom’s other books, but maybe I will, now that I’ve finished her beautiful love story about losing her husband, In Love: A Memoir of Love and Loss.

Although I like to write book reviews, it’s not so often anymore that I read them written by others. I tend to buy and read books based on recommendations in news stories or certain groups I follow. I like true stories, though, so when I saw Amy Bloom’s latest book, a true story, reviewed in both The New York Times and the Washington Post, I took notice. I’m pretty sure it was The New York Times‘ review that I read first, and I downloaded the book as soon as I read the review. I was that certain I was going to like the book. And now that I’ve finished reading Bloom’s heartbreaking story about saying goodbye to her husband, Brian Ameche, I know that my instincts were right.

Amy Bloom and her late husband, Brian Ameche, came together after both had been in unhappy relationships. Bloom’s first marriage produced three children, while Ameche never had children of his own. Bloom is Jewish, while Ameche had been raised Catholic and later attended a Unitarian Universalist Church for awhile. The two met in 2005 and started out as friends. Bloom hadn’t even been all that impressed with Brian at first. But then she realized that he reminded her of the best father figure she’d ever had, a ninth grade teacher who managed to inspire scores of people. In 2007, the couple wed, and Ameche soon went from never having had children to being a “grandpa” to four granddaughters.

As Bloom writes it, she and Brian had a pretty comfortable lifestyle with many friends, dinners out, and travels. But then Brian, who had been a football player at Yale in his younger years, started having problems at work. He had been an architect and spent his working life creating beautiful, useful buildings. But his work soon became unreliable and he couldn’t finish projects on time. He bought bizarre gifts and clothing, including a $500 sweatshirt. His handwriting changed, as did his habits, which became more odd as the days passed. Soon, all he wanted to talk about was his glory days playing football at Yale.

A neurologist broke the devastating news that Brian had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. After talking to the doctor, the couple went out and bought “Goodbye, I Love You” stationery, so Brian could write notes to his loved ones before his mind became too addled. And then he told his wife and that long goodbye was not for him. He wanted to depart this life before Alzheimer’s stripped him of his dignity and self-determination.

Unfortunately, in the United States, the concept of a “right to die” is still emerging. Although there are states where euthanasia is possible, they all have rules that would make it difficult in Brian’s case. Most states, for example, require that the patient be a resident, and have doctors certify that death will occur within six months. There are strict rules about how much “help” a person who wishes to die on their own terms can receive from other people. Violating those rules could land Amy or anyone else who helped Brian in legal jeopardy. Then there were the ways that people tend to commit suicide when they aren’t considering a medical intervention. Again… they were potentially risky, messy, or dangerous, and there was always the chance that the method would fail and Brian would be left alive, but helpless.

Amy Bloom eventually found an answer in a Swiss organization called Dignitas, located in a suburb of Zurich, Switzerland. There, Brian could die peacefully, provided the couple paid the organization’s fee (about $10,000), and Brian passed all of the requirements that would secure approval. For instance, Brian had to prove that he wasn’t suffering from clinical depression, and that had to be verified by a physician. He had to be interviewed extensively and convince Dignitas staff that he was serious about his desire to die and there wasn’t any coercion, financial gain, or intimidation behind his request.

In Love is the story about how Amy and Brian came to their decision to end Brian’s life on Brian’s terms. As I read this lovingly composed book, I got a sense that I would enjoy knowing Amy and Brian. It almost made me wish we were in the States, living in Connecticut. Amy seems to me to be a very intriguing person. She even consults a tarot card reader as she makes the decision when to go to Switzerland. I don’t have any experience with tarot cards myself, but my husband, Bill, is interested in them. I found it eerie when Amy wrote that her trusted reader told her that Brian’s decision to end his life was fine, but they must take the first date open to them. The reader, who was very insightful, said that she saw difficulties ahead if they didn’t take care of business immediately. As Amy Bloom was coming home from Zurich after watching her husband die, the very first COVID-19 cases were being discovered in the United States. Brian died January 30, 2020. Less than two months later, the world would lock down.

I found this book interesting for a lot of reasons. Personally, I think that people should have the ability to end their lives humanely if they want to do that. I don’t think it’s wrong for people who wish to be euthanized to be carefully interviewed and screened, but I absolutely believe that there are times when it is appropriate to allow people to commit suicide. I have felt this way since I was a teenager… Once, I even got compared to Hitler by my high school speech teacher because I misspoke, as teens do, and put my thoughts in a way that didn’t translate the way they should have. I just don’t believe that people should have to linger when death is inevitable, and waiting for it to come “naturally” will be painful, undignified, and exorbitantly expensive. We all have to die someday, and while I don’t condone suicide for “selfish” or manipulative reasons, I do think sometimes it is appropriate to choose one’s own exit, so to speak.

I also found this book interesting because, besides having a few things in common with Amy Bloom, I enjoyed reading about her trip to Zurich. Bill and I went there last year for the first time, even though we’ve lived a relatively short distance from there for years. I had always heard Zurich was a “boring” city, but we didn’t find it that way at all, probably because Bill is now studying Carl Jung, and Jung lived in Zurich. So does Tina Turner. 😉 I did get a charge when Bloom wrote about visiting Marc Chagall’s famous windows in the Frauenkirche. Bill and I have been there, too. Also, I thought it was touching when Brian tells his wife that she must write his story… and she obliges, with this very sensitive and loving memoir.

Anyway, I’m glad I read Amy Bloom’s beautiful tribute to the love she shared with her husband. She was there when he needed her, and they spared each other the long, cruel, undignified goodbye that comes as Alzheimer’s Disease inevitably progresses. Maybe Brian Ameche’s exit wasn’t for everyone, but I think there will be some people who are helped by reading In Love. And some people will just be very moved by it, as I was.

Highly recommended.

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healthcare

Instant karma’s gonna get you…

Remember that old song by John Lennon? I read that he coined the term, “instant karma”. It’s supposed to reference actions taken by a person that cause harm to another that later come back to bite them in the ass. Lennon wrote a great song about it.

Wise words…

Well… what I’m about to describe may not really be “instant karma” per se. I don’t know exactly what I’d call it. You can tell me what you think it is. Here goes…

Last night, for some reason, I randomly decided to check out the Facebook page of one of my first cousins once removed. Her dad is my first cousin, since his mother and my father were siblings. As I was reading my young relative’s social media page, I noticed a post about another cousin… my relative’s aunt, and also my first cousin. I’ll call her Nell, although that’s not her name.

Nell is the eldest of 22 grandchildren on my dad’s side of the family. She’s nineteen years older than I am. For a number of reasons, I don’t feel very close to her. I never have. It’s partly because she’s a lot older than I am and because of that, I never got to know her as well as my older sisters did; but it’s also because we’re very different in terms of how we view the world. Nell is a conservative Republican and very religious. I… am not.

Although I am Facebook friends with Nell’s siblings, none of them follow me, probably because I’m not religious or conservative and I swear a lot. I used to be friends with Nell, but I’m not anymore, for a few reasons. The main one is that I never got the sense that she liked me very much. Nell sings, writes songs, and plays guitar, and I always got the feeling that maybe she resented me for also being a singer. I cuss a lot, drink a lot, and don’t go to church, and it seemed like she disapproved of that. Nell and I don’t agree on a lot of things, particularly regarding politics and religion. It seemed like she’d be “nice” to me in person, but there was always an undercurrent of disapproval. After awhile, that behavior became hurtful to me, so I disassociated with her on Facebook, and I haven’t been “home” to Virginia since 2014, so it’s been awhile since I last spoke to her.

Nell’s niece, who is still one of my Facebook friends, posted that Nell had been undergoing chemotherapy. She recently got her last treatment. I don’t know exactly what kind of cancer she had, but I suspect that it might have been leukemia or something along those lines. There were comments about her platelet counts, and in the pictures, I noticed she had what looked like a port-a-cath in her chest. In some of the pictures, Nell looked a bit wan… pale, tired, and weak.

Suddenly, I remembered a Facebook incident involving her a few years ago. At that time, Nell was in her early 60s, and apparently healthy. On January 30, 2016, I posted this graphic that came from Bernie Sanders’ Facebook page. This was just as the 2016 election year was cranking up.

I commented on Facebook how unfair I think it is that Americans are forced to pay so much for prescription drugs and that our system needs to change…

We were having a good discussion on my Facebook page about drug prices and health insurance, when Nell came along and left the following comment…

So success is defined by having cheap drugs? Those 35 million Americans that take these drugs don’t realize they are dying quicker by taking them than by doing without. We’re enslaved by Big Pharma whether the price is small or great. BTW, I’m a Republican. I am 62 and don’t take any medicine.

I was a bit taken aback by the comment for a couple of reasons. First off, Nell very rarely commented on my Facebook page. I doubt she even followed it much because my views and use of colorful language probably really offended her. She once got upset with me for writing “damn”. And secondly, I honestly didn’t feel like this was a controversial topic. I mean, sure, Americans use a lot of drugs, sometimes for preventable conditions. But plenty of people use drugs for conditions that are beyond their control or because they’ve been in accidents.

I had no idea why my cousin posted her comments about being “enslaved” by Big Pharma.  I don’t really see what that has to do with the fact that necessary drugs are way overpriced.  A lot of people have to take medications, not because they’re looking for a magic pill instead of eating right and exercising, but because they have medical problems beyond their control.  And those drugs are very expensive and, for some people, unaffordable.  This is a huge problem and it needs to be addressed.

Many people can’t afford medications even if they are fortunate enough to be insured. And in 2020, our feckless president is still trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, even in the midst of a global pandemic! Nell was, and probably still is, an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump and anyone else who runs on the Republican ticket. I know her brother is, since just the other day, he shared a 2016 era piece that is complimentary of Trump as a person.

The conversation continued, with many of my friends posting “WTF” comments. The people who were commenting weren’t all liberals, either. At least one vociferous poster is very conservative politically, but needed expensive medications when she was pregnant. Fortunately, she qualified for Tricare, so they were fully covered. Another friend suffers from multiple sclerosis and needs to take expensive, life preserving drugs for the rest of her life. She worries what will happen when her husband leaves the Army this year, even though her husband is a very high ranking officer and a lawyer.

Awhile later, Nell came back and posted this…

Don’t mind me, I’m just Jenny’s off the grid organic farmer cousin. I don’t mean to be insensitive to those who really need medicine but there are drug companies and doctors who push all sorts of medicine unnecessarily. For the most part if folks would just take responsibility for their diet 3/4ths of the medicine now prescribed would not be necessary. But Medicine is big business. I live on the edge with no health care and use a lot of essential oils. I would rather pay a penalty than pump $6K a year or more into the healthcare insurance business. Call me crazy.

My response to her was this…

“As a matter of fact, I do think it’s crazy not to have health insurance.  Essential oils don’t do dick for people who have been in catastrophic accidents or are born with congenital diseases.  And if you do end up having to go to the hospital and you rack up a huge bill that you can’t pay, then everyone else has to pay for what you can’t.  That’s one of the main reasons why healthcare costs so much.  Yes, it’s true that Big Pharma is big business, but the fact is, many people need to take drugs through no fault or responsibility of their own.”

As I have mentioned many times, this topic is kind of in my wheelhouse, since if I had not become an Overeducated Housewife, I probably would be dealing with people caught up by this issue on a daily basis. After all, I trained to be a public health social worker. I remember how, back in 2016, I rarely posted about politics and didn’t really care about conservatives vs. liberals. My, how things have changed.

Well… as I was looking at pictures of Nell with her port-a-cath, I couldn’t help but wonder if she ever got health insurance. I wondered how she was paying for the medicine she clearly needed. And I wondered if her essential oils were much help to her when she was diagnosed. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t wish cancer on anyone at all… certainly not my cousin, whom I do love, even if I don’t always like her. But I do hope she wised up before she vitally needed medical treatment. Too bad the oils and the proper diet didn’t ward off cancer.

After I reminisced about my cousin’s political screed on my page, which upset a lot of my friends, I remembered her comments about the late Brittany Maynard. Remember her? Back in the fall of 2014, she was in the news because she was 29 years old, newly married, and had a brain tumor that was killing her. Rather than let the tumor take her faculties and force her to be a burden to her family, Brittany decided to commit suicide. My cousin had something to say about that, too. First, she posted a link from a popular Christian blogger named Ann Voskamp, who had posted a rebuttal to Brittany’s decision to end her life that was written by Kara Tippetts. Tippetts also had cancer and has since passed away from her illness.

Tippetts, who had stage four breast cancer, was a dedicated Christian and she asserted that by committing suicide, Maynard was robbing her friends and family the opportunity to work through Christ. She wrote:

“Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known. In your choosing your own death, you are robbing those that love you with the such tenderness, the opportunity of meeting you in your last moments and extending you love in your last breaths.”

I remember that Nell wrote that she felt “blessed” that she had been able to help take care of her mother during her mother’s last days. Like Brittany Maynard, Nell’s mom, who was my aunt, had an inoperable brain tumor. She received the diagnosis just after Thanksgiving 1993. I remember it because that was the last time I spoke to my aunt. She was an alum of Longwood University (although it was called the State Teacher’s College when she graduated and Longwood College when I graduated). I remember we sat and talked about the school and how much it meant to us. A few weeks later, I heard about her diagnosis. About a year after that, she was gone. I mailed my application to the Peace Corps on my way to Georgia to attend her funeral.

I didn’t know much about how that last year went for my aunt. At the time, I was 22 years old and freshly graduated from college, trying to launch into adulthood. In 2014, when Nell wrote about Brittany Maynard’s brain tumor and how wrong it was for Brittany to make the call as to when she’d be exiting her life, she insinuated that the last year was pretty bad. But Nell wrote that she had felt fortunate that she could “serve” her mother, and therefore, serve Christ. It didn’t seem to matter that perhaps her mother’s dignity was diminished or that maybe she was in great pain. Not that my aunt had expressed a desire to have a physician assisted suicide… I really don’t know. My aunt had family and friends who were willing and able to help her. I suspect Brittany did, too. But not everyone is that fortunate, and not everyone believes in God. Moreover, when a person gets to the point at which they can no longer take care of themselves physically or make their own decisions, they can and do become very burdensome to others. Not everyone has people in their lives who are willing to responsibly and compassionately take on those burdens.

I don’t remember posting my thoughts on Nell’s Facebook page. I knew it wouldn’t be received well. I had seen Nell engage in arguments with more liberal family members in person, in particular my late aunt who was once a nurse for Planned Parenthood. My aunt, like most everyone else in my family, was very conservative. However, she was pro-choice because she’d worked for Planned Parenthood and seen girls and women who needed access to abortions. She had developed empathy for their situations. She was a very opinionated and outspoken lady, too, so the discussion she had with Nell about abortion was a very lively one. I didn’t want the same to happen between Nell and me on social media.

Anyway… I don’t talk to Nell much nowadays. In fact, there are quite a few family members I quit talking to, mainly over politics and religion. I can’t bear the cognitive dissonance. I am truly sorry about Nell’s bout with cancer, although it does appear that she’s recovered for the time being. She’s lucky that she had the means to get good and effective treatment and has so many friends and family members willing to care for her and pray for her well-being. I don’t know that we’ll ever be close… I still remember the way she treated me the last time I saw our grandmother alive. She basically guarded her, as if I was a threat. In retrospect, maybe I should have reminded Nell that Granny was my relative too, and I had a right to visit with her.

Nell also has a habit of taking pictures and sending them out, even if they aren’t very flattering. She’s one of the main reasons I don’t feel very welcome around my family anymore and why I may not go back to the family homestead. But I do wish her well, and I hope she develops some perspective and empathy for people who don’t think and feel the same way she does.

 

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