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March 3, 2021

Nikki Gemmel attempts to understand her mother’s ‘death of choice’

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Author Nikki Gemmell. Photo by Kathy Luu.
Author Nikki Gemmell. Photo by Kathy Luu.

Review by Mandy Nolan

When writer Nikki Gemmel’s mother Elayn unexpectedly ended her life, the author was thrown into a raft of intense emotions: grief, outrage, disbelief, shock. How could she have not seen this coming?

What could she had done differently? And why hadn’t her mother confided that she’d joined Philip Nitschke’s Exit group to gain support and information to die?

After by Nikki-Gemmel.
After by Nikki-Gemmel.

In After, Gemmel examines her own feelings of personal failure at not picking up on the seriousness of her mother’s chronic pain, and the subsequent mismanagement by the medical system that led to her mother’s dependence on pain relief that then led to depression, isolation and her eventual quiet and lonely death. After examines the issue of euthanasia at the coalface, initially looking beyond the individual’s right to die to explore the impacts on family, particularly on Gemmel and her children, and then moves on to a sense of acceptance about Elayn’s choice, coloured by a sadness that the illegality of assisted dying meant her mother had to die alone.

In After, Gemmel reflects on her very personal reaction to both her mother’s death and her mother’s life. The book is a deeply moving and raw memoir that goes to the most painful place in human relationship – that of disconnection between mother and daughter and the dark abyss of regret.

It is told with such honesty and rawness that I cried on the first page, and throughout. The copy I read had been dropped in the bath and the pages were as swollen as my eyes after an hour of reading. Somehow the book looked like it had been crying. It felt perfect.

Gemmel has generously offered us a very personal and important memoir that comes from her deepest place. Don’t read it on the plane.

 

• Nikki Gemmel will be taking part in Festival sessions The Extreme Boundaries of the Sayable (Friday), Grief: Does It Never End? (Friday) and a one-on-one conversation with Chris Hanley (Saturday).

• For more on Byron Writers Festival visit byronwritersfestival.com


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