Robin Romm’s mother was diagnosed with cancer the summer after Robin’s freshman year in college. Nine years later, Robin quit her graduate program at Berkeley to stay home with her dying mother. In The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks, Romm recalls the end of her mother’s life, peppering the narrative with memories of earlier times – before her mother’s death was imminent.

“It seemed to me that most books sought to close the wound, hurry it shut. But death doesn’t heed commands. The wound, large as it is, can’t close up in a week, in a year, in two years. You can’t talk it away in groups, you can’t meditate it out of you. The truth of loss is loud and ferocious,” Romm writes. The Mercy Papers does not attempt to instill wisdom or provide solace for readers. Rather, it is a raw, honest account of the frustration, fear, hope and rage a young woman must deal with during this difficult time.

Readers who have lost a loved one to any illness will identify with Romm. Her detailed descriptions of her mother’s physical condition as the cancer and the medications take their toll will be heartbreakingly familiar to some, as will Romm’s fervent wishes for a miraculous recovery, her irritation at others’ shallow attempts to help, and her anger at a hospice nurse’s mistakes.

Romm’s story, with all of its low points, is nonetheless refreshing for its candor. In a society in which one is expected to “be strong” when faced with death of a loved one, The Mercy Papers acknowledges that this isn’t always feasible:

“But no matter how many times someone tells me a story about ‘releasing the dying,’ I’m not going to say this. I won’t be okay…The idea of losing her has been careening around me since I was nineteen like a maniac bird and I’m not stupid, I’ve paid attention. There is nothing okay about it.”

It is simple truths like this one that will make The Mercy Papers resonate with those who have experienced a loss, and with those who, like Romm, must watch a loved one slowly fade away.

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