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.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

Standard
musings

Seven years ago…

Every day, I’m newly amazed at where Bill and I are. Seven years ago, I never thought we’d be living in Germany, especially for as long as we have. Seven years ago, we were in San Antonio, Texas, having a terrible summer. I remember July 2014 was particularly awful, as my dad had his very last health crisis and we were dealing with constant real estate showings and trying to plan for our overseas move to Stuttgart.

We worried about so much, particularly since we had dogs and Bill had a month of unemployment. I remember when he was offered the job in Germany. It was as if he was a custom fit for the kind of person they were looking to hire. We wanted to move to Germany. They wanted someone experienced in a niche field who would take a low salary. The lack of money is partly why we wound up renting our cheap, weird house, dealing with a very intrusive and controlling landlady from hell. However, living there was a good thing, since it set us up for adventures and helped us save a lot of money.

Plus, I paid off my student loans. In 2014, I still owed over $40,000 on my loans. By 2018, they were completely retired. I don’t think we could have done that if we hadn’t had a cheap house and Bill hadn’t had a job at which he is a star performer.

On this day seven years ago, my dad died after having spent about six years suffering from dementia. I remember my sister leaving me a message on my phone, sounding concerned, but not panicked. She said our dad had a really bad gallbladder attack and had needed emergency surgery. The surgeon removed Dad’s gallbladder successfully, but my Dad was never able to recover from the anesthesia. I remember my dad tried very hard to keep breathing after the respirator was removed. Mom finally told him to let go and be with all of the people on the other side waiting for him. So he stopped fighting and died.

Since then, four uncles, an aunt, and a cousin have died. Three of my uncles died in 2015 alone. I haven’t been home since we did our memorial for my dad, back in November 2014. I have newly born relatives who don’t know me at all and a few who have probably forgotten me. Some have said they’d like to see me, though I wonder if I should believe them.

I do kind of miss Virginia, although the United States seems to be getting weirder by the year. I read a news story this morning about a self-described Virginia militia member who is hoping to see Virginia secede from the Union. He was arrested for breaching the Capitol on January 6th, even though the feds didn’t take that step until he mistakenly told an undercover DC cop and an undercover FBI agent posing as “patriots” about his plans to raise a ruckus.

The “militia member”, name of Fi Duong, is a former Marine of Chinese and Vietnamese descent who says his family has been running from communists. He doesn’t want to see communism take over the United States. So, for that reason, it’s okay for him to be talking about testing Molotov cocktails at what used to be Lorton Prison in Virginia? What about the fact that Virginia went “blue” last November? I mean, I come from Virginia, so I know that there are many conservative voters there. But the conservatives did not win last year. Why is it appropriate for guys like Fi Duong to try to force change that the people clearly don’t want?

It’s scary to read about all of the extremism in the United States right now. People are very polarized.

Still, although I am not a Trumper, I do have a lot of Trump loving family members. Some of them claim to miss me. The truth is, I miss a lot of them, too. There may come a time in the near future at which I’ll want to go home for a visit. But I’m not sure I even want to live in the United States anymore. It’s gotten too strange and dangerous. I almost wonder if I’d even fit in there.

I guess this experience of being in Germany for so long has given me some idea of what immigrants go through. We aren’t immigrants, of course, and we don’t even have resident status here. We’re here on SOFA status, which means we don’t really have the typical expat lifestyle. Germany isn’t home, and probably won’t be, but it feels so much more normal here. Yes, there are some extremists, but not as many as there are in the United States. And there are many fewer guns, which is a nice thing.

I still can’t believe we’ve been here for seven years. It just doesn’t seem real. I look back on it and realize it’s actually been a long time, but the time seems to have flown by so fast. It’s been a mostly good time, too. Sometimes I miss being with people I know and love, but for the most part, being away has been good. I’ve learned a lot and changed… In fact, I may not be able to go “home” again. A German lady we met in 2019 told Bill and me that living here has made us “too European” for the United States. She knows of what she speaks, too, since she had lived in the United States for years. I think living there changed her, too.

I still have a German friend who lives in North Carolina. When I first met her, she complained a lot about North Carolina. Since then, she’s earned a nursing degree and had several American boyfriends. She also bought a house. I suspect she may be there for the long haul. Funny how we kind of traded places. She’s responsible for us finding our sweet Arran.

Well… I guess that’s enough musing for today. I wish I had more to say, but I’m a bit preoccupied. I spent this morning finding and booking a hotel near Zurich. In a couple of weeks, we’re going to enjoy a long weekend down there. Bill will indulge his curiosity about Jung and I will get some beautiful photos for my travel blog. Tomorrow, I will be singing in an online memorial for my old friend. Hopefully, it will go well.

Standard