Silences, or a Woman’s Life
by Marie Chaix
translated by Harry Matthews
This book will follow me for a while. It was moving and beautiful, but also haunting and raw. I have never read anything like it. It was like reading a dream, the edges of the story being faded and vague, but the heart of the story staying clear. It reminded me of Me Before You because the story is about the choice of dignified death or not and the struggle to let go when the one you love is ready to leave. In this story a young woman’s mother is slowly dying. She has had a full and challenging life, including falling into a coma at 50 and coming out of it an old woman. She lapses back into a coma and the daughter has no choice but to take her to the hospital where the doctors and nurses keep her alive by any means, even though the daughter knows her mother is ready to go. In one particular paragraph the struggle is described by the daughter. She says, “I’m abandoning her. She’s in their hands. She belongs to them. They will do ‘everything they can to save her’ -to bring her back to life. What do they know of her life? By what right to they intend to bring her back to it? We are all now caught up in the mechanism of gradual death. We are passive agents in the useless struggle that will play itself out between four white walls, where ‘no trouble will be spared’ to try and delay the outcome already inscribed in the stats or on the brow or in the palm of the hand. There is an unknown date that follows us like a shadow from the morning to the evening of life, as indelibly inscribed on us as a tattoo: the moment when everything comes to a stop. Why are we so afraid of that moment when at last we sense it’s here, right next to us, just beyond the bedroom door? Why do we erect against it this tentacular human apparatus of impossible rescue that is bound to break down on the appointed day, at the appointed hour?” The whole book is written in this beautiful script and portrays the struggle. She recounts her mother’s story and dreams and is heartbroken over how her life is being drawn out. She says, “I can still remember how you longed for an ordinary life: you would have looked to be a serene old lady, sitting in the shade of lindens in front of the family house, watching your grandchildren scampering across the meadow. You would have enjoyed opening old cupboards, slipping lavender sachets between white sheets, something big copper pots full of red jam, and Sundays, after Mad at the village church, striking along paths of your garden counting the rosebushes in flower, your steps slow, your arm resting on that of a man whom the years would have chastened.” The fact that it wasn’t to be that way is sad. I think the contrast between what could have been and what was makes her mother’s death that much more heartbreaking. In the end, the doctors draw out her death by over a month before she takes her last breath.
Summing it up: this book was haunting and deeply moving. I definitely recommend it.
All the best, Abbey