Helen Park Bigelow’s honest memoir of love and death

Given Time: Living Our Last Months Together is an honest memoir about what matters most in the human condition: love and death. Author Helen Park Bigelow pulls no punches about either one. She and Ed found in each other their perfect mates, and they lived together in love for 35 years, until they were separated by Ed’s cancer. The book deals honestly with the process of dying, an ordeal shared by both of them. It also deals with the process of staying alive and in love until the ordeal is over.

Helen recalls her life with Ed as exciting and joyful. She writes with affection about Ed’s clutter and his casual attitude toward being on time. She tells of how she followed him around at an art exhibit until he noticed her; she tells how Ed saved her and her daughter when their house burned down; and she delights in the tale of their wedding in a hot tub. This man, this wayward son of proper parents, is fun to be with in Helen’s memory.

She writes with brutal honesty about her anger and grief over what has become of her husband and herself. The book isn’t a manual about how to take care of a dying man, but it makes the reader well aware of what a grueling job it is. “So this is it,” she writes. “This chemo routine is the rest of our lives together…and goddamn it, it’s going to be as good for both of us as I can make it.”

Obviously, the dying process is no fun for Ed, either. Read this book and learn about fever and chills, a diet of milk shakes, being “trussed up like a turkey” for MRIs and PET scans, the agony of walking, and then not walking. No longer sleeping with his wife. When moving at all is to feel pain.

Near the end, Helen stands outside her house watering the sunflowers in her back yard. A hummingbird appears to drink from the spray. She reflects, “People everywhere on Earth slip toward the end of their lives while their loved ones give help if they can, and sunflowers still turn toward the sun, and hummingbirds seek water and drink.”

Helen Park Bigelow and her husband, Edward B. Bigelow, lived on the Island of Maui as well as in Palo Alto, California, where Helen still lives. She earned her living making pottery during the 1960s and 1970s, and she has led a weekly writing workshop in Palo Alto for twenty-five years. Her first book, David Park, Painter: Nothing Held Back, an art book and memoir about her father, was published by Hudson Hills Press in 2009.

Given Time
Living Our Last Months Together

by Helen Park Bigelow
ISBN 978-1-56474-553-8
224 pages, paperback, $14.95
Publication date: April 2014

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