...I didn't have the nerve to show Mom the rewritten obituary until late
November. This was a time when Mom was not feeling well and believed she
would not live much longer, and she was making clear to us that she
would feel unsettled and thus somewhat unnerved until certain "to-dos"
relating to her death had been settled and taken care of. The obituary,
as well as planning for the celebration of life following her death,
needed to be "checked off the list," so I could not avoid what I knew
was going to be a very emotional event any longer. I needed to share my
draft with her for her review and blessing, because keeping it from her
was causing her some anxiety.
My hesitation stemmed in part from my not wanting to be weak or sad in
front of her, despite my minister's having assured me it was important
for someone in her situation to see us cry, to know and to appreciate
that her life means so much to us that we could not imagine being happy
without her. I could understand this. Nevertheless, knowing how
important it was to her that she remain strong (for my father), I didn't
want my weakness to in turn make her weak. It is hard to explain.
Fundamentally, I just wanted her to be happy, not sad, in her final
days, weeks, months.
My hesitation also reflected my belief that finalizing an obituary was
tantamount to accepting the reality of what an obituary reports. While I
had accepted the inevitability of my mother's death, I had gone out of
my way in the weeks since her diagnosis to help her focus on living, not
dying, and I had tried not to believe or suggest, through words or
actions, that death was going to happen as soon as she and my father
seemed to think. In the days after her diagnosis, my father had sent an
e-mail to his nephews in Germany, which he closed by saying, auf
Deutsch, "We are hoping for a couple good months." By the end of
November, it already had been a couple months.
Late one afternoon, I gave her my draft, explaining that I hoped she
would find it acceptable because it was important to me and, indeed, to
all her children that people know how deeply she was loved. In those
moments together, the tears I had held back in her presence for almost
three months flowed freely. I told her how much I loved her and how
desperately I didn't want to lose her. In those moments, she shed some
of the only tears I saw during what would be a yearlong battle with
cancer. I'm not sure I ever felt closer to her--except, perhaps, as
death finally approached.
My mother died peacefully at home after an inspiringly courageous fight
to live. She did live--one year and one day from her diagnosis. The long
goodbye was excruciatingly difficult, but in some ways, our family is so
grateful for the year we had; it brought us together in extraordinary
ways, and we filled the year with much fun and love. Only in the days
following her death did I begin to realize just how courageous and
strong she was. She never despaired, was not depressed, shed nary a
tear, woke up each morning happy to be with us, and went to bed each
night feeling thankful. She did far more living than dying, that's for
As incredible as she was, I am not writing this book to tell my mother's
story. I could not do justice to it. For now, I will let the obituary
speak for itself. I poured my heart into it and cannot do any better.
Rather, this book is about the road we traveled together. It is about
how she lived in her last year (right up to her last week), not about
how she died. It is about how she and our family managed to enjoy what
was described at the celebration of life as "a magical year." It is
about being able to say, "I have no regrets." It is about holding on
while letting go. If our experience during our last year together can
reassure or inspire others who are facing the end of a cherished
relationship, then even in death, her generous spirit and big heart will
be at work in the world.
Excerpted from "When All That's Left of Me Is Love" by Linda Campanella. Copyright © 2011 by Linda Campanella. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.