I don’t want to sound morbid but I’ve been reading David Rieff’s memoir about his mother’s death, “Swimming in a Sea of Death.” Susan Sontag died of leukemia contracted as a result of her chemotherapy treatments for both breast and uterine cancer. And now, overnight it seems, we hear about Nora Ephron’s death from pneumonia contracted as a result of leukemia also. They’re different kinds of leukemia though, (Myelodysplastic Syndrome in Sontag’s case and Acute Myeloid Leukemia in Ephron’s passing.) Both of these women were writers and both loved New York City.
What strikes me is the way that each of them lived and how each handled her dying. Sontag was determined not to believe (really) that she was in fact dying. Or in her son’s words, repeated over and over again in the memoir, that she was headed towards “extinction.” There’s a lot of writing about doctors who choose to maintain a patient’s wish for hope when there really is none. In Ephron’s case, it appears she hardly let it be known that she was seriously ill until the night before she took her last breath, surrounded by family and friends.
So, lest you think that this post is about dying, it’s actually about living. Ephron finished her last book. “I Remember Nothing” by making lists of what she’d like to forget and what she would rather remember. As usual, they were witty and poignant: she wanted to forget Clarence Thomas for one thing, and wanted to remember how it felt driving over the bridge back into Manhattan. Most of all, she exhorted us to do just what we want to do in each moment and not to wait until we get too sick to do something when it’s too late. Because, as even my own doctor said awhile back, “Everyone gets something.”
So this morning, I returned the garden hose for a better quality one that cost twice as much and paid for a foam knee pad and a beautiful pair of grass trimming shears. As I passed the Dunkin’Donuts, I impulsively pulled in for an iced black coffee and two honey dip donuts to share with G. as a mid-morning snack before heading out in the garden to plant the new hydrangeas and the crimson red daylilies.
After lunch, I drove to the library to return my books and took out Nora Ephron’s books to read again.
P.S. Click here for an article about Nora Ephron which appeared in the NYTimes the day after her death.
Click here for NYTimes coverage of Nora Ephron’s memorial service.
P.P.S. Thought you might like to see Nora Ephron’s Lists from (“I Remember Nothing,” Alfred Knopf, 2010):
What I Won’t Miss:
Bad dinners like the one we went to last night
Technology in general
Washing my hair
Polls that show that 32 percent of the American people believe in creationism
The collapse of the dollar
The sound of the vacuum cleaner
E-mail. I know I already said it but I want to exmphasize it
Panels on Women in Film
Taking off makeup every night
What I Will Miss:
The concept of waffles
A walk in the park
The idea of a walk in the park
Shakespeare in the Park
Reading in bed
The view out the window
Dinner at home just the two of us
Dinner with friends
Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives
Next year in Istanbul
Pride and Prejudice
The Christmas tree
One for the table
Taking a bath
Coming over the bridge to Manhattan