This smoothly written story provides insightful perspective on the bumpy issue of dying with dignity. A woman, Kate, who is used to being in control in her home, family and community is diagnosed with terminal cancer and struggles with loss on many levels. Her independent daughter Ellen is summoned to care for her and the two women suddenly find themselves out of their comfort zones in many ways.
Their forced intimacy sheds light on both their relationship with each other and their previously “normal” lives. Kate is determined to decorate a tree for the town’s Christmas display, a project she has coordinated for many years. Ellen reluctantly helps make ornaments under her mother’s watchful eye, and comes to understand the meaning this work brought to Kate’s life. Kate directs Ellen as she hangs the ornaments, passing on her wisdom that bigger and brighter is better, when things are seen from a distance. An interesting aspect of this book is the roles that men play. Ellen learns her father has been keeping up appearances as well — perhaps too well. It is he who insists Ellen be the one to care for his wife, while he continues his career and philandering at the local college. Ellen’s brother joins the family for Thanksgiving, and delights Kate with a reckless ride down the street in her wheelchair. Ellen is bewildered by this as Kate previously refused to be taken out in the offensive wheelchair. The prodigal son returns? Ellen’s boyfriend shows his true colours during the time she is caring for Kate. He is selfish, unsupportive and ultimately their relationship ends. This book will strike a chord with most people due to its themes, and although written twenty years ago it is relevant today.