After, written by journalist and author Nikki Gemmell, is the author’s experience of her mother choosing euthanasia to end her painful life.
What the book really does is allows Nikki to process her complicated, war ridden relationship with her mother, Elayn. Their relationship is detailed from childhood to death, with Nikki showing vulnerability in the ability to accept that she was not the daughter her mother wanted, nor Elayn the mother Nikki wanted. However there is also tenderness and awkward dialogue of caring and trying to find their space with each other.
Nikki describes her mother as a very closed, private person, so I do struggle with Nikki ‘outing’ her mother to people, when it appears her mother spent her life preventing people from getting in. The desire of Nikki to process their relationship and find the good seems to come at the expense of her mother no longer having privacy, or her public persona honoured in dying.
The relationship between mothers and daughters is dissected in After – what is the role of a mother? How do we come to terms with this not being met, and how do we break the parenting we received with our own children? This is one of the taboo subjects covered in After, and hopefully it can catapult this into an arena where we can talk about and accept the different ways we parent, and that need is met in different ways, but also that parenting is not to be taken lightly – we hold the hearts of our little people in our hands, and the impact, such as Nikki describes, is enormous when not done with thought.
The discussion on euthanasia is one that will continue in our society. After captures the grief that illegal euthanasia can have on families where there is no discussion for fear of prosecution after death, fear of family taking action and the person losing their right to choose. The impact on Nikki, her brother, and Nikki’s children is individual to each, but the question of why and how could Elayn do this seems to lay heavily for each of them. The inclusion of letters from readers of Nikki Gemmell’s column, where I assume she wrote of this experience, opens up public support for Euthanasia, as well as providing understanding of the different lenses of this debate.
After is easy to read, broken into very small paragraphs, but each one tells a lot. For me this supported my thoughts that we need to have legal choice over our lives, or people will be forced to take action illegally, and therefore secretly, which means family can’t be prepared and involved. Nikki has opened up a door for people to think about this debate, which is a positive step forward.