The Life and Death of My Mother

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9780393030679: The Life and Death of My Mother
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Sitting beside his dying mother, the narrator recalls fragments of her life--her childhood in Louisiana, her marriage to a doctor, the death of her husband, and her retirement and illness--in an exploration of life, death, and the importance of family ties

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From Kirkus Reviews:

In this bleak little book, psychiatrist/novelist Wheelis (The Doctor of Desire, 1987, etc.) offers a history of his dutiful but loveless relationship with his mother, an account of her death, and a pre-vision of his own life's end--which, at age 74, he feels to be imminent. Wheelis grew up in poverty in the American South, son of a doctor whose tuberculosis prevented him from working and who occupied all the attention of his wife, who chose to care for him at home. The author's childhood memories are of ugly things like sputum cups and sheets boiling in a cauldron in the backyard. When Wheelis's father died, the boy replaced him as the center of his mother's devotion, granting him a burdensome power over her. Guilt that Wheelis would feel the rest of his life arose from an incident when, as a preadolescent sleeping in bed with his mother, he explored her naked body as she slept. After that, he did his duty by her, with no joy and little love, nursed her through a spell of illness when he was in college, and invited her for long visits after he married, became a psychiatrist, and moved across the country--even though her dependency and devotion made him and his wife acutely uncomfortable. Wheelis's mother became, as he honestly but brutally says here, ``a foolish old woman'' while still in her 50s--and she remained so until her death in a nursing home nearly a half-century later. Is our dismal and often cruel existence, Wheelis wonders, unredeemed by any meaning after its end? He fantasizes returning to the dear scenes of his married life in the Pacific Northwest, and finds solace in the certainty that his survivors will love and miss him--as, to his grief, he never could manage to love his mother. A brave book, but a grim one. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

From the nursing home bed where his mother lay dying at the age of 100, San Francisco psychiatrist Wheelis ( The Path Not Taken ) looks back over the intense and, for him, often painful relationship they shared for his more than 70 years. Recalling how he, then a five-year-old, responded to her as she nursed his father through the grim final stages of TB and, later, as she struggled to make a life for him and his sister as an untrained schoolteacher in Texas, Wheelis focuses an unflinching eye on the powerful, subtly erotic dependency that she developed on him. As a young man, he cared for her through two serious illnesses and remained, married and with a family of his own, a loving and attentive son for all the decades that followed. Yet his discomfort with her adulation continued unabated and runs parallel to his awareness of his own mortality and, similarly, to the embellished image from his youth of a pigeon, its feet sadistically chopped off, forced to fly on and on because it cannot land. Wheelis's struggle to understand the place in his life of this woman--daughter, wife and mother of physicians--and the complex web of feelings she evokes in him yields a spare, unromanticized tale--compassionate, disturbing and masterfully told.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Allen Wheelis
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