Ashland-based White Cloud Press is known for publishing inspirational and thought-provoking books. This month, two of its authors are debuting books which, each in a different way, shine a loving light on the end of life.
Local storyteller and writer Debra Gordon Zaslow will read from and celebrate the launch of "Bringing Bubbe Home: A Memoir of Letting Go Through Love and Death" at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 7, at the Havurah Shir Hadash.
The book chronicles Zaslow's decision 17 years ago to take her 103-year old grandmother, whom she calls Bubbe, out of her unhappy nursing home to let her live and die with her family. This would never be considered an easy task, but considering Zaslow already had a full plate with her duties as a rebbitzen (wife of a rabbi), raising two teenagers and working as a professional storyteller, it is amazing she even came to the decision.
Zaslow is a talented storyteller and she has a knack for pulling the reader through one memory and into another, interspersing the story of her bittersweet journey with Bubbe, along with stories of her own upbringing, Bubbe's life and Zaslow's own family. With so many moving parts, it would be easy for Zaslow's book to feel scattered, but it isn't and she crafts a story that readers can lean into and feel inspired by.
Early in the book, Zaslow makes it clear that her notions of easing her grandmother peacefully into death were all wrong. Bubbe isn't the sweet, loveable grandmother many people imagine. She's got baggage as a child of abuse, neglect and anger, and her children and grandchildren found her cold and negative. At 103 years old, Bubbe not only requires a great deal of care, she doesn't have any filters about being grouchy or critical.
Zaslow wrestles with multiple demands on her time and energy, as well as self-doubt and exhaustion. Yet, there is humor in the story and a great deal of love. As life with Bubbe takes on a rough rhythm, the women bond and even joke and sing to one another. "Bubbe," Zaslow writes, "outgrew her personality," and becomes the gentle woman that she was at her core. During her time with her grandmother, Zaslow gains a deeper understanding of Bubbe and a deeper sense of herself and her connection through the line of women in her family. It's a thoughtful and uplifting story that is less about death than it is about life and how it is never too late for one soul to light up another. In addition to her event at the Havurah, Zaslow will also read at Bloomsbury Books at 7 p.m. on June 23.
On June 14 at 6:30 p.m., also at the Havurah, writer and photographer Mary Landberg will celebrate the launch of her new book, "Enduring Love: Inspiring Stories of Love and Wisdom at the End of Life." Landberg, who is a hospice nurse, photographed and interviewed hospice patients and their families. Her black-and-white photos focus primarily on their hands. Alongside the images are brief stories, conversations and quotes from the subjects of each photo, as well as notes and poetry from Landberg.
While the topic is a difficult one, the book itself is surprisingly uplifting. The patients' voices are at times funny and wise as they share stories of their adventures, romance or simple advice. One woman talks of her life as a hairdresser and how she changed moods with a new look. "We are kinder people when we are happy. Go get your hair done," she advises readers.
Landberg's launch party will include wine and hors d'oeuvres, as well as music by guitarist Tye Austin. A portion of the proceeds from "Enduring Love" will be donated to hospice programs.
The Havurah Shir Hadish is located at 185 N. Mountain Ave. Bloomsbury Books is at 290 E. Main St.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at email@example.com.