What happens when a 40-something feminist sociologist who studies gender and sexuality learns that her mother, a passive aggressive and needy woman who hasn’t had a lover in decades, has started seeing men who want to be bound, whipped, and sexually dominated? What happens when that mother, shortly after diving into her newly discovered sexuality, develops one cancer that forces her to accept radical changes to her body and then another that forces her, and everyone around her, to confront her mortality? How do their ideas about themselves and each other change as they confront aging, illness, sexuality, and the inevitability of death?
These are the central questions of My Mother’s Cross: Cancer, Kink, Sex and Death, a 90,000 word sociologically-informed memoir that narrates the eight months I spent taking care of my mother during the end of her life, and reflects not only on our relationship as mother and daughter but also on the challenges faced by anyone navigating a health care system that tends to see us in terms of our diseases instead of in terms of our humanity.
The purpose of this book is to open spaces for conversation between parents and their adult children, between caregivers and those who need them, and between health care providers and patients about the two things we still have such trouble discussing plainly: sex and death. These are not gratuitous conversations. The quality of life, and the quality of death, we can expect as we age depends on them.