Zoe Carter’s busy life on the West Coast with her husband and daughters takes an unexpected detour when her glamorous, independent-minded mother, Margaret, tired of living with Parkinson’s disease, decides she wants to “end things.” As Zoe and her sisters negotiate over whether or not they should support Margaret’s choice and who should be there at the end, their discussions stir up old alliances and animosities, along with memories of a childhood dominated by their elegant mother and philandering father. Capturing the stresses and the joys of the “sandwich generation” while bringing a provocative new perspective to the assisted suicide debate, Imperfect Endings is the uplifting story of a woman determined to die on her own terms and the family who has to learn to let her go.
A deceptively cheery tale about her mother's plans to end her own life underscores the author's conflicted role in filial caring and responsibility. Carter's mother, a widow living in Washington, D.C., had suffered from Parkinson's disease for more than 20 years, and by 2001 had grown debilitated and depressed about her physical helplessness; she had joined the Hemlock Society and was actively making plans to kill herself, to the consternation of her three daughters. Carter, who is the youngest of the sisters, living in San Francisco with her husband and two small children, seemed the closest emotionally to her mother, and flew back and forth to accommodate her erratic schedule at "ending things." Armed with a lethal supply of Seconal and morphine, the mother nevertheless vacillated about what to do, as her daughters (and their partners) debated the effectiveness and legal ramifications of her assisted suicide, even suggesting she was being manipulative and controlling. Although there are poignant memories of childhood and early family life, this memoir perhaps unavoidably dwells on the author's needs and wishes, rather than the mother's. In the end, the family rallied around her painful decision, and though Carter attempts to preserve her mother's dying dignity, her account frequently jars, with its grimly glib celebratory tone.