Donald Antrim’s exquisite memoir of his mother and her dying, The Afterlife, is an unblinking look at what it is to be the son of an imperfect mother.
She was sixty-five and had coughed and coughed for years and years. There had never been any talking to her about her smoking. The news that she had cancer came as no surprise. It had grown in her bronchi and was inoperable. Radiation was held out as a palliative–it might (and briefly did) shrink the tumor enough to allow air into the congested lung–but my mother was not considered a candidate for chemotherapy. She had, during the course of forty years of, as they say, hard living, progressively and inexorably deteriorated. The story of my mother’s lifelong deterioration is, in some respects, the story of her life. The story of my life is bound up in this story, the story of her deterioration. It is the story that is always central to the ways in which I perceive myself and others in the world. It is the story, or at any rate it is my role in the story, that allows me never to lose my mother. …
People are fond of saying that the truth will make you free. But what happens when the truth is not one simple, brutal thing? I could not imagine life without my mother. And it was true as well that only without her would I be able to feel alive. I had had enough of Louanne Antrim and was ready for her to be gone. I wanted her dead, and I knew that, in the year of her dying, I would neglect her.
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