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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

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  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

Nurse Was Right to Refuse CPR

A couple weeks ago a nurse made international headlines when she refused to perform CPR on an elderly, dying woman in Bakersfield, California. The tape of the frantic 911 dispatcher was played over and over again. Newscasters spoke of the need to expand “good Samaritan” laws. The country was outraged.

Somewhat surprisingly, the woman’s family declined to sue, saying she had wanted no extreme measures to prolong her life.

Extreme measures? It’s just CPR, right?

Maybe not. In some cases, denying CPR may be the most humane option.

The following is a quote from the horrendously enlightening article, How Doctors Die by Dr. Ken Murray. I read it a year ago but it was so profound, it stayed with me. I’ll never forget this:

Some doctors are so afraid of having their Do Not Resuscitate orders ignored that they have NO CODE tattooed on their chests.

What could cause doctors to fear life-saving measures? Here’s an excerpt of one doctor describing resuscitation measures:

The patient will get cut open, perforated with tubes, hooked up to machines, and assaulted with drugs. All of this occurs in the intensive care unit at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day. What it buys is misery we would not inflict on a terrorist.

Did you know CPR often breaks ribs? I didn’t either. Here’s more:

Feeding into the problem are unrealistic expectations of what doctors can accomplish. Many people think of CPR as a reliable lifesaver when, in fact, the results are usually poor. If a patient suffers from severe illness, old age, or a terminal disease, the odds of a good outcome from CPR are infinitesimal, while the odds of suffering are overwhelming.

This article in Forbes laments the fact that there was no “Do Not Resuscitate” order on file at the home, and I agree. However, even if you have such an order on file with the facility, over-zealous or lawsuit-shy staff may completely disregard them. “Jack,” who had such orders on file only to have them ignored, was lucky enough to be removed from life support by the doctor who wrote this article. The doctor said:

Although he had thoroughly documented his wishes, Jack hadn’t died as he’d hoped. The system had intervened. One of the nurses, I later found out, even reported my actions (i.e. complying with Jack’s DNR orders) as a possible homicide.

It’s difficult to imaging leaving a patient to die without taking measures to revive her. However, I read the Murray article before the Bakersfield incident occurred, and thus my first thought was that the nurse was a hero, courageous enough to honor the patient’s wishes. It’s apparent that the family felt the same way.

But I still kind of feel like getting a tattoo.

Leave a comment


  1. I agree with you. My mother was a geriatric nurse, so, for 6 months, I actually lived at an apartment at a nursing home and later, I worked in a kitchen at a Ohio facility that housed seniors that was part of the old “poor house” system. The people who are SO outraged are probably the family members who promised to bring them home for Thanksgiving and never showed. I remember hugging an elderly retarded woman and telling her that I loved her and that her family must have had a problem — because the never could have forgotten her…

  2. This is such an important subject, and such a difficult one to approach for many people. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, and the links.

    • It’s difficult to think things can go so wrong even if you plan ahead and have all the right conversations, Sheila. But apparently we have to fight even that.

  3. Mom had a DNR on her refrigerator for years and although I didn’t realize how damaging CPR could be, I know she didn’t want heroic measures to keep her alive. As it was, it was her own heroic self that kept her alive until she died at nearly 102. No CPR for that gal. As for me, this got me thinking about having a DNR for myself…or a tattoo!

  4. I’m sure most people who’ve had to deal with a parent in a nursing home understood why the poor nurse couldn’t perform CPR on the resident. When you admit a loved one to the facility, the staff explains to the family the services they will and will not perform, when an ambulance will be called and when the family will be called to make a decision. When my dad was suffering congestive heart failure at 84 and otherwise merely exsisting at the home, the head nurse called my sister and me and asked whether we wanted him taken to the hospital or to receive comfort care at the home. She also made clear of the outcome of either choice. We appreciated that.

    I also understand why the dispatcher would be upset, but should have abided by the nurse’s wishes. For this to be considered national news justifies my opinion that the networks will do anything to stir up twitter traffic. In the meantime, the poor family and the humilated nurse are left to question themselves. The last thing you need in that situation is to have the media involved in these private matters.

    Great post Lynne. 🙂

    • All true, Vonnie, except in this case I probably am part of the media in a sense. But it was interesting that the woman chose that home due to its LACK of high-level medical services. She wanted a place to die naturally. BTW thanks for sharing your dad’s story. Best wishes.

  5. Kathryn Jordan

     /  March 15, 2013

    Wow, it’s so good of you to share this! My mother has no-resusitate instructions, and I never dreamed some health care giver might ignore them. Hopefully I’ll be around when the time comes to demand that they follow her wishes because I doubt my 94 year old mom would go for the tattoo.

    • Ha ha, Kathryn, no, you’re wrong. Your mom would probably LOVE a tattoo. But it would be an all-time winning word on Scrabble, not DNR.

  6. Susan Ritchie

     /  March 15, 2013

    I’m thinking if a tattoo, too. Thanks for posting this. A good reminder to seek out both sides if an issue.

    • Yeah, Susan, it pained me to see the rush to judgment. Also proved most of us aren’t really prepared for what could happen.

  7. Lynne, your post is the first truly rational account I’ve read of this tragic situation, so I thank you. Vonnie brings up a good point, too — why does the media insist on interjecting itself in what should be a private, family matter?
    My late dad had COPD and was terrified of not being able to breathe. Early on the morning he was to die, he had “an episode,” we called 9-1-1, they inserted a breathing tube, and they took him to the hospital. Little did we know that removing the tube wasn’t an option because it would cause him to die. He spent his last hours of life attached to machines, unable to speak with his family, unable to communicate. I know he wouldn’t have wanted that. Yes, the tube prolonged his existence, but at what cost??

    • Oh gosh I’m so sorry Debbie. I remember when you and I first met, we have so much in common it was uncanny. Well here’s another thing: the way that our fathers died. You just have to try to forget that part and remember all the good stuff right? I wish I could say more but I am sitting in the San Diego Airport and my battery is dying. To you and to all of my friends to have made such heartfelt comments this morning, I will get back with you around mid day. Until then.

  8. jon brierton

     /  March 15, 2013

    … ummm … already have such a tattoo (No Code Blue).
    Have had it for ~ 25 years. It’s an effort to “bubba-proof” my end.
    An old (now) ICU nurse.

  9. sortaretired

     /  March 15, 2013

    Great post, beautifully done, especially your choice of quotes. I’ve forwarded this post to my sister, who is a hospice nurse.

    See you at the tatoo parlor!

  10. Hmmm- I’ve always wanted a tattoo…

  11. When my grandmother was dying, my Dad called her doctor and asked if she should be brought to the hospital. The doctor said why? It’s her time to go, let her do it at home. And she did, sleeping peacefully until the end. I don’t know what my Dad was thinking – he must not have asked my aunt her opinion either. I don’t think she would have let him do it.

    Grandma was in her late 80’s and had a very limited life for a long time due to a series of strokes that took everything way from her. I hated losing her, but I was glad she was finally free.


    • Nancy, that’s how most of us want to go. Nice that her doctor didn’t care about racking up wads of cash for himself at the expense of your poor granny, may she rest in peace.

  12. Lynne, I am so glad you brought this up. Throughout all the media hype about the nurse refusing CPR, due to my health care background, I was initially appalled at her refusal. We are programmed to save lives, especially if there are no clear directions to do otherwise. But underlying my initial reaction was the nagging sensation that at her age,she should go in peace. This is why having a living will is so important. Making your wishes known ahead of time saves a lot of confusion and unnecessary heroics- which for an elderly person can mean further complications,i.e. fractured ribs, perforated liver, lungs or spleen,etc. The fact that the family did not sue further supports the notion that the nurse was right.

    • Exactly, Kathy. It really bothered me to see the people on the news shows declaring the nurse was immoral and incompetent. Maybe she was a hero.

  13. The “system” should never intervene with the right to die a with dignity. Thank you on behalf of humanity for writing this post!

  14. reichcla

     /  April 1, 2013

    Hi there – I’ve started a blog for my Aging Policy class discussing the Death with Dignity Acts across the nation and how we’re in need of national laws for those who make the choice to end their pain. Is it OK if I reblog your post (I just wanted to ask before I did)?

  15. reichcla

     /  April 1, 2013

    Reblogged this on Dying with Dignity: Education and Legislation and commented:
    People want change! People want choice! Stay informed and keep others informed!


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  • Lynne Spreen

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    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

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  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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