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 were 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 that the 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 have made 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.
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