Books to Read as Your Mother Lay Dying

Everything you can’t say about love and loss can be found in the pages of a story.

D. A. Langley
Human Parts
Published in
11 min readApr 2, 2024

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Photo by cottonbro studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-sitting-on-floor-reading-book-2925308/

I’d like to think I have a decent grasp on the basics of life and death, but all I know is that my mother is going to die. Soon. The nursing home has transitioned her to “hospice” care, and hospice means Mom will be made comfortable as her body shuts down in the coming weeks, days, or hours.

My mother’s imminent passing is not a shock. Our family, once a jovial band of down-to-earth folk, has struggled with her early-onset Alzheimer’s diagnosis with the alacrity of elephants weeping over the loss of their matriarch. It’s too soon, too immense, all we can do is sway.

Packing, I don’t think about how desperate I am to be by her side. I think about books.

Standing in front of my massive bookcase, peace radiates from the colorful spines and stacked pages. The bookshelf is an industrial masterpiece of canary yellow shelves screwed into black iron pipes. Made by my partner, a man good at math and wooing a woman obsessed with bibliomania, it’s a symbol of knowledge and comfort.

I’m grateful for friends who’ve shared their condolences, especially those who’ve been touched by dementia and know the process is like having paint thinner applied to your soul, every day another layer gone, but there are not enough words for the pain that is grief, that is rage, that is regret, that is wisdom sprinkled on the shoulders of one who is already wet.

If I didn’t have my books, I don’t know how I’d cope. It wouldn’t be pretty. I wouldn’t be able to smile, laugh, grit my teeth and open my arms to everything that loss is not.

Over the last five years, Mom’s symptoms spiked and plateaued with the seasons. Her body took on the visage of an oak tree losing its fight against a brutal winter, a frost-bitten spring, a drought-filled summer, a fungus-laden fall. I tracked the decay by the books I read.

Last season, it was The Long Hello, a dementia memoir by Cathie Borrie. Her mother had “normal” Alzheimer’s. She had years of in-home caretaking, sponge baths, and being coaxed to eat finely-milled potatoes. There were conversations about birds and trees and how graceful the…

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D. A. Langley
Human Parts

Relationship coach, BossMom, and ghost writer wrapped in a 1950s apron. www.dearsweetandlow.com