She Came to Live Out Loud: An Inspiring Family Journey Through Illness, Loss, and Grief

Front Cover
Simon and Schuster, 1999 - Health & Fitness - 379 pages
Prologue

"Learning"

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

There's an elephant in the room. It is large and squatting, so it is hard to get around it. Yet we squeeze by with "How are you?" and "I'm fine."..and a thousand other forms of trivial chatter. We talk about the weather. We talk about work. We talk about everything else -- except the elephant in the room. There's an elephant in the room. We all know it's there. We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together. It is constantly on our minds. For, you see, it is a very big elephant. It has hurt us all. But we do not talk about the elephant in the room. Oh, please say her name. Oh, please say "Barbara" again. Oh, please, let's talk about the elephant in the room. For if we talk about her death, perhaps we can talk about her life. Can I say "Barbara" to you and not have you look away? For if I cannot, then you are leaving me. Alone...in a room...with an elephant.

Terry KetteringAppearances weren't the problem, I said. What mattered was a basic lack of consideration for feelings, the concern for their precious fifty dollars. The voice of the owner glided along: "Had you requested viewing of the body, it would have, of course, been itemized in the initial billing, but since this was a last-minute request, we could do nothing but to add it."

"Why does it cost fifty dollars?" I asked.

"Well, it just "does." It is so itemized, " he said, bringing out his list much like a clerk at the dry cleaners: $3.75 to iron a shirt with French cuffs, $4.50 for a suit jacket.

The desire to see my mother took precedence over the principle of refusing to pay their fee. After my moments with Mom, a whispered "I love you" to that stilled body beneath the pink blanket, I returned to the outer office with its brown fake-wood paneling, fake orange flowers, fake sentiments (at least to this funeral home) hung on the walls: "Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land and their loyalty to high ideals." The funeral home's notepaper had placed its most ironic message in italics above the telephone number: "In Your Hour of Need."

Flying home, I read a newspaper item that sent me into hysterical laughter -- dark, macabre humor that inexplicably relieves tension and sorrow. A funeral home and a customer had quar reled over a bill, the customer sayingthat it had been paid in full, the funeral home disagreeing. The home settled the argument by dumping the dead body on the doorstep of the survivors. I read it to my dad on the phone, saying, "Well, it could have been worse!" This image, despite the grimness for those involved, caused both of us to laugh. It was the only laugh in a week that had jangled and jarred its way to an end. No sooner had we walked back inside my parents' bungalow from the funeral home than I was quickly erasing all traces of my mother. My father had instructed me to.

"This was not the way it was supposed to be, " I thought, taking jackets and golf skirts and slacks off the rack, folding up nightgowns, grown larger over the years. No good-byes and no warning. Mom was never seriously sick a day in her life. Nor did we ever say good-bye as a family. Dad felt that he could not get through it and said no to a memorial service.

The jangle of the phone broke into the quiet of the cabin in the North Carolina mountains. My father, stumbling over his words, told me that Mom was in the hospital and may have had a slight heart attack. I had never heard such frailness in his voice. My hands trembled as I called the hospital three thousand miles away. Mom was in intensive care but resting well. I walked through the woods with my dog to reach the clearing and my private place of serenity. Sun shone over

 

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SHE CAME TO LIVE OUT LOUD: An Inspiring Family Journey Through Illness, Loss, and Grief

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Teacher and entrepreneur Anna Johannessen was 37 when first diagnosed with breast cancer; after a spirited, valiant eight- year battle with the disease, she died, leaving two children (ages 11 and 13 ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction
11
Learning
13
PART I
27
Meeting Anna
29
Starting Out
39
A New Stage
59
PART II
75
The Return of the Big C Insurance Companies and Other Snafus
77
Reprieve
177
In Limbo
193
Annas Choice
211
Telling the Children
223
April
253
Caregivers
267
Letting Go
287
PART IV
303

Resilience Anger and Humor
89
Coping Day by Day
103
The Clay Wall
113
Paving the Way
129
Masculine and Feminine Grieving
145
Riding the Roller Coaster
165
How to Go On Living
317
Lessons and Reflections
337
Resources
357
Suggested Bibliography
365
Copyright

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About the author (1999)

Myra MacPherson is the author of two critically acclaimed bestsellers -- Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and The Power Lovers. She was a celebrated journalist for the Washington Post and wrote for the New York Times and numerous national magazines. She lives in Washington, D.C., and Miami with her husband and has two grown children by a previous marriage.

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