Bequest & Betrayal: Memoirs of a Parent's Death

By Nancy K. Miller | Go to book overview

Prologue:
WRITING A
PARENT'S DEATH

Children begin by loving their parents. As they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.

OSCAR WILDE, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The origins of this book are inseparable from the loss of my parents. My mother's death was a shock. An athletic nonsmoker, she was diagnosed as having lung cancer days after her sixty-eighth birthday and died a few months later. But it was only in the years following her death, when my father became physically and mentally crippled by Parkinson's disease, that I began to think and to write about the end of life.

Death, literary critics have not failed to point out, is good for narrative. It gives shape to the messiest of plots and retrospectively conveys meaning to whatever has come before. In autobiography, the death of others always provides unexpected narrative benefits. It tells us something important about who we are, especially when the death is that of a parent. The loss of a parent and the work of self- examination--how we watch our parents die; how we live with ourselves, and them, after they are gone--lie at the heart of an astonishing number of contemporary memoirs. I'm writing here about how I've tried to make sense of my life as a daughter in the wake of my parents' death, and how reading the memoirs of writers coming to terms with their loss has helped but also complicated my task. As a reader of autobiography, I perform an awkward dance of embrace

-ix-

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Bequest & Betrayal: Memoirs of a Parent's Death
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments v
  • Contents vii
  • Prologue: Writing A Parent's Death ix
  • 1 - Family Plots xiv
  • 2 - Childless Children: Bodies and Betrayal 22
  • 3 - Mothers and Daughters: The Price of Separation 56
  • 4 - The Art of Survival: Mom, Murder, Memory 96
  • 5 - Outing the Dead 126
  • 6 - Unbillable Hours 168
  • Epilogue: Postmortem 184
  • Works Cited 191
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