'Life is pared down to what really matters?
Rory MacLean’s new memoir records the precious months he spent caring for his mother, Joan, who was terminally ill with cancer.
Joan MacLean spent Christmas 1999 in her local hospital. The feisty, Formula One-loving 80-year-old had lost control of the left side of her body on December 21 and had fallen as she stood up from her desk. Her cancer was back. Five months later, it would take her life.
When Joan died, Rory could not face reading them. Eighteen months later, he tried – and failed – to revisit them. Six years later, he tried again. “Time had blunted the sharpness of the loss and I could go through them,” he says.
Maclean eventually decided to offer the family’s diaries for publication, so that others might see that it is possible to have “una bella morte – a good death, as the Italians say – surrounded by family and friends, in peace.”
Gift of Time is a brave departure from Rory’s previous books (which include Stalin’s Nose, a surreal account of a journey from Berlin to Moscow in 1989). Unusually for a travel writer, he merges fact and fiction, creating what fellow travel writer Colin Thubron has described as “hyper-real worlds”. But this time there are no fictional devices, says Rory, 56, who is now living in Berlin, with Katrin, 46, and their 10-year-old son, Finn, while he finishes his latest book. The diary form is “direct and honest”.