Robin Marantz Henig is at her superb best in “The Last Day of Her Life,” a NY Times Magazine feature about a remarkable woman, Sandy Bern, who decides she’ll end her life before she loses her self to Alzheimer’s. At one point, as Bern’s power fades, her daughter, Emily, gives birth to Bern’s first grandchild. Little Felix makes Bern think there might be some things her new self is better at than her former.
She told Emily that her “new brain” might actually make her better suited to being a grandmother than her focused, hyperanalytical “old brain.” She seemed to have found a way of being that she liked, content to sing silly songs and make nonsense sounds for hours on end.
Emily liked her mother this way, too. It had sometimes been difficult to be Sandy’s daughter. As a child, Emily wanted to wear her hair long and take ballet lessons; Sandy, ever vigilant about gender stereotypes, nudged her to cut her hair and play soccer instead. But now Sandy didn’t seem to care about such things. Emily thought that her mother was taking pleasure in life in a way that the old Sandy could not have anticipated — and she found herself hoping that the joy her mother took in Felix might make her reconsider her intention to end her life quite so soon.
Which is hardly all the story.
This is gorgeous, deeply reported, deeply felt work — vintage Henig. It increases my pleasure at seeing the Magazine’s revival as a place that embraces such beautiful, brilliant, patient stuff.