Wilmington’s literary community keeps gaining accolades (two National Book Awards nominees in 2015) and attention in the press. With multiple established publishers in the state (Algonquin, Blair) and new smaller presses gaining traction (Eno, Bull City), it is timely to shine a light on discussions around literature, publishing and the importance of communicating a truthful story in our present world.
Welcome to Carpe Librum, encore’s biweekly book column, wherein I will dissect a current title or maybe an old book—because literature does not exist in a vacuum but emerges to participate in a larger, cultural conversation. I will feature many NC writers; however, the hope is to place the discussion in a larger context and therefore examine works around the world.
Bridging the Gap: Life Lessons From the Dying
By Kimberly C. Paul
KCP Ventures, 2018, pgs. 170
Kimberly C. Paul, creator of the “Death by Design” podcast, put together “Bridging the Gap: Life Lessons from the Dying” last year. A longtime hospice worker, she chronicles her journey learning about end-of-life decision-making and the people who teach her the most unexpected lessons.
I admit: I have been looking at the book in my “to read” pile since June 2018. It is an ironic admission to make, considering Paul was involved with the local “begin the conversation” campaign with Wilmington-based Lower Cape Fear Hospice. The program encourages people to have discussions with their families about hard-to-face issues. It is hard to wake up and say, “Today is the day.” It is hard to have those conversations. It also is hard to pick up a book about the topic. Not that it isn’t important, it is just, I can list 1,000 ways to distract myself from mortality.
Paul’s book is part memoir, part workbook. At the end there are questions related to each chapter to get the reader or reader’s family to discuss what was addressed.
The memoir portion chronicles the author moving to Wilmington after working on “Saturday Night Live” in New York and getting out of the entertainment industry for hospice. As she unfolds finding and losing her true love—and the unbelievable, unexpected twists the story took years later—as a reader, I was drawn into a life nothing short of miraculous. The magical, mysterious life Paul shares with her readers comes through time and time again, on the page.
Some stories she recounts of others are so personal, I almost felt guilty for reading them—especially about local people I knew. The story of Alan and Lorraine Perry coping with Alan’s death just about killed me. The idea of watching the man I have shared my life with pass away is more than I can bear. Knowing Lorraine, and what she has dedicated her life to with healing arts therapy, especially her work here in hospice, just wrecked me. It really did. I’m not sure I should have been privy to such beautiful, personal moments between her and Alan. Just typing about it brings tears to my eyes again.
However, the moments of wonder Paul recreates and the powerful connections she recounts are amazing. And there are dogs—numerous, truly angelic dogs—throughout the book. Personally, I have had two interactions with hospice and neither left me particularly pleased or impressed. But, perhaps, if I had read Paul’s book earlier, those experiences would have been different. I think I would have understood a bit more of the clinical-meets-humanity side of what hospice does. Instead, I didn’t adjust my thinking and responded with my own filter. So, though I hope I don’t find myself in need of hospice services again, as a result of Paul’s book, next time I hope to be better prepared for a more open and reasoned experience.
In many ways it feels like Paul is a born teacher. What she accomplishes so beautifully in this piece is a combination of story with facts, figures and resources. It is almost a lesson plan for approaching end-of-life discussions for yourself or your family. Not to mention it is a beautiful book to look at, with full-color graphics and beautiful quotes throughout.
What Paul does so well is acknowledge there is a script a lot of people want individuals to follow: the medical world, family, etc. Each of us has to figure out our own path and live it—and we have to honor decisions others make. She shares the story of her own grandmother, who made a choice about her death that was not the choice Paul wished for her. Learning to honor choices is tough but also a big piece to healing grief.
Frequently, when picking up books that address end-of-life issues or aging issues, I find there is a clear and specific path and checklist presented: “This is what you need to do.” Instead, Paul is more interested in presenting the idea that the more questions you ask yourself and your loved ones, the more you can learn. Consequently, the more you can honor the time you have together and make the journey to the final destination more personal and authentic.
Though Paul spends a lot of time focusing on honoring the lives that have touched her own, I hope she takes as much pride and joy in her own accomplishments. Because what she does show her audience is a life well lived—a life lived with authenticity and zest, and that comes through in every word.