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The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life

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As a bereavement care specialist, Dr. Virginia Simpson has devoted her career to counseling individuals and families grappling with illness, death, and grieving. But when her own mother, Ruth, is diagnosed in 1999 with a life-threatening condition, Virginia is caught off guard by the storm of emotions she experiences when she is forced to inhabit the role of caregiver. In a quest to provide her mother with the best care possible, Virginia arranges for Ruth to move in with her and for the next six years, she cares for her, juggling her mother's doctor's appointments, meals, medication schedules, transportation needs, and often cranky moods with her own busy schedule. In The Space Between, Simpson takes readers along for the journey as she struggles to bridge the invisible, often prickly space that sits between so many mothers and daughters, and to give voice to the challenges, emotions, and thoughts many caregivers experience but are too ashamed to admit. Touching and vividly human, The Space Between reminds us all that without accepting the inevitability of death and looking ahead to it with clarity, life cannot be fully lived.

288 pages, Paperback

First published April 12, 2016

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 27 of 27 reviews
Profile Image for Jenni Ogden.
Author 5 books277 followers
July 17, 2016
I don’t read a lot of memoirs but I’m glad I read this one. Virginia Simpson’s (Ginni to herself and her friends) voice is intimate and honest as she charts the final years of her relationship with her mother, Ruth, as she moves piece by piece towards death. This is not the story of a mother’s untimely death and her young daughter’s grief; Ruth died just shy of her ninety-first birthday and her daughter, the author was in her fifties. The strongest message of their story for me was that age is not the point when it comes to grief for the loss of a parent. Perhaps the only loss more primal would be the loss of one’s child.

Virginia Simpson is an expert in the area of bereavement; that’s what she does, works with people who have lost loved ones, and especially children who have lost a parent. This doesn’t make caring for and grieving for her own mother any easier, and that too is a lesson. We only lose our mother once and it is hard, probably impossible, to prepare for it.

Ruth was at times a difficult person to empathize with, and Ginni’s relationship with her was (understandably) a rocky one, made more so by Ruth’s ignoring of Ginni’s pleas to protect her from Peter, her older physically and emotionally abusive half-brother. Yet by the end, I liked Ruth and felt I understood a little better the story behind her struggles to overtly express her love for her daughter. Ginni’s evocative but not overly-dramatic writing took me along with her on her own much deeper journey of understanding and forgiveness.

This was also a book about caregiving, especially for the person we love most, and for someone old and frail. The raw emotions, the terrible fatigue, the feelings of helplessness, the never-ending difficult and lonely decisions about medical treatment and end-of-life options, the curtailing of one’s own ‘normal’ life—these aspects of this daughter’s life for six difficult years after she took her mother into her own home to care for her, were laid bare. Yet we get the strong feeling that Ginni was never ready to lose her mother (other than the occasional wish her mother would die in moments of extreme tiredness and carer burnout), until the very end.

Perhaps their relationship in these last years of Ruth’s life wouldn’t have been quite so intense if Ginni had children of her own, or even if she had full siblings she loved, as at least then the loss of her mother wouldn’t have removed from her life the only person with close genetic ties to her.

This is a deeply thought-provoking memoir, and left me with the desire to phone my children, talk to my grandchildren, and remember, as I frequently still do, my own mother who died when I was young, and whose leaving even 50 years later can still bring silent tears. The love-irritation bond between mother and daughter is often more precious than can easily be put into words. Virginia Simpson has given that precious bond words, and in doing so has honoured the stories of every mother and daughter.
Profile Image for Gini Grossenbacher.
Author 4 books143 followers
July 10, 2017
An amazingly candid memoir which recounts the rollercoaster faced by a caregiver and her mother at the end of life. Compelling and well-written. I highly recommend this to anyone who treasures their mother, present or past.
86 reviews
April 10, 2018
excellent. glad I waited 18 months since my own mom passed away. if I had read it sooner, it would have been too hard.
Profile Image for Deb.
48 reviews
April 19, 2018
A wonderful book about acceptance, forgiveness and love. Thank you for sharing Virginia.
Profile Image for Laurie Buchanan.
Author 6 books297 followers
February 19, 2018
It's been a long time since I felt so angry on someone's behalf. The recounting of the author's story stirred up a hornet's nest of "righteous" anger. Raised in a family where crying was not tolerated, Dr. Virginia Simpson's father died when she was twelve. Her half-brother is a violent and hateful individual. And her unappreciative mother, oblivious to her daughter's needs and distress, is emotionally bankrupt. Fortunately, Simpson and her mother were able to close the space between—the space that separated them. What I learned from this memoir is that the most useful thing you can give anyone (dying or not) is your presence. That, and allowing people to be where they are without trying to fix what we can't.
Profile Image for Lizbeth.
Author 3 books43 followers
June 27, 2016
I’m not sure what I expected when I got this book. Maybe something more self-helpish and useful, but sterile. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother Daughter Love at the End of Life is a beautifully written book covering the end-of –life journey, detailing a very relatable and complicated relationship between the author and her mother. It’s fun, sweet, sad, and interesting, with plenty of terrific takeaways. This is definitely a must-read.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
Author 6 books22 followers
November 2, 2015
The Space Between is a thought-provoking and moving recollection of the final journey a daughter takes with her mother when forced to face the inevitability of mortality. It is a tale of two women who are headstrong, intelligent, prideful, gracious, forgiving, and bonded by typical mother-daughter love: exasperating, exquisite, eternal.
January 23, 2018
The Space Between is an insightful tale into the challenges—mental, physical, and emotional—that take place between mother and daughter at the end of life. Driven to move heaven and earth for her mother at the steady cost of her mental well-being, Virginia Simpson undertakes an impossible trial for six years, caring for a live-in mother who both drives her mad and provides her an invaluable opportunity to start to overcome the traumas of her family past. Simpson’s word-smithing is both brilliant and elegant, describing painful scenarios in ways that cut to the core while paving the way for future healing. The Space Between doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff; it makes it the foundation and shows that healing is tough and messy and painful to the point of total breakdown—but possible. Love and commitment and the precious relationship between mother and daughter are explored in all their great and terrible beauty. Simpson performs the tumultuous balancing act of living her own life while seeking to provide a perfect, nigh impossible, level of care for her mother. A bond that is continually threatened by her mother’s ailing health becomes the force keeping her together as she does her best to be the perfect daughter, despite feeling the entire world closing in, in a relentless desire to make her mother proud. It’s a non-sugar coated peek into a beautiful and intelligent mind while navigating an impossible time of life. This book is an invaluable asset to aid one’s own journey through grief, by a doctor who knows the way and helps you realize you’re not crazy—you’re human.
Profile Image for Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe.
Author 2 books5 followers
November 1, 2018
An honest look into the often troubled relationship between mother and daughter. Simpson takes the reader on her journey with brutal honesty, humor and loving kindness. The reader is invited into the most intimate of truths related to caring for a loved one and is offered the chance to not only read about but to experience healing. A wonderful, heartfelt read.
Profile Image for Reader Views.
2,028 reviews67 followers
December 18, 2016
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (12/16)

“The Space Between” by Virginia A. Simpson is a book that resonates with me in dealing with my mother’s health and stubbornness to remain in control. As I read Simpson’s journey with her mother, all I could say is “Yep, yep, yep.” She must know my mother.

Simpson’s book is very well written. With such compassion and love, it is a real tribute to her mother and all they have gone through. The subject of her book is never an easy one–death and dying of a parent. Having already lost her father suddenly from a massive heart attack, Virginia finds the situation with her mother a reversal in roles. After her father died, her mother became bitter and angry, and now Simpson finds herself in the same position.

The author describes the turbulent relationship she and her mother had from childhood and how she always felt her mother didn’t love her but valued her stepbrother more. When her mother became very ill with breathing problems, Simpson was unable to find a caregiver for her so she ended up moving her into her home.

Many readers will find they experience every emotion while reading this beautiful story. I laughed, cried (a lot), and got angry. Readers will also find they are so caught up in the journey they won’t be able to put the book down.

Simpson discusses the lack of support from medical and support organizations, and their attitude of, “It’s just another old person dying.” Simpson is a professional in the field helping others deal with grief yet she can’t handle her own emotions or prepare herself for her mother’s death. As the sole daughter, she is held to higher standards and that seems to put a lot of pressure on her.

As the author states “Mother-daughter relationship are complicated.” The ups, downs, arguments, and anger that occur set up distance between them and then in the next moment they love each other again ignoring all previous crises.

Throughout the 32 chapters, she describes how it is to be the sole decision maker of someone’s health and life decisions but at the same time, shares memories of growing up with her mother as a child and adult. “Yes,” the author says, “even as adults we are growing up.”

"The Space Between” by Virginia A. Simpson is very moving, and she does not lecture or give advice. This is her journey about being a caregiver for her mother in the last years of her life. This journey will remain with readers long after the reading is done.
June 23, 2017
With its wit and wisdom, The Space Between: a Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life, drew me into Virginia Simpson’s transformative and emotional journey and held me there long after the last page. This inspiring story of the power of love and kindness will resonate in the heart of every caregiver, and holds truth for any close relationship. Weighing exhaustion and despair against compassion, she shows us the healing power of choosing compassion. This poignant and insightful memoir openly and honestly depicts the joys and sorrows of caregiving through a beautifully written and evocative story. Patricia Williams, Author of While They're Still Here
Profile Image for Diana Paul.
Author 6 books88 followers
April 6, 2017
"Maybe I’ve become a hard scab with Mom, quick to rush to anger to protect myself in many of our encounters during the last few years. Perhaps if I softened, I would be more open and able to heal without leftover hard edges. " p.122

Virginia Simpson is a bereavement care specialist, but when she relates the complex history of her relationship with her mother, we see how a professional grief counselor is still at a loss. At a time when the subjects of aging and dying are no longer the taboo they once were, "The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life" is a heroic account of the inner child deeply cloaked within the armor of an adult. Held by the powerful tug of family obligations, we see the author cope with past family dynamics and seek a way out of the misery of caregiving and towards reconciliation. Exhausted by her caregiving duties and unpleasant memories of her mother when young, the author is extraordinary in developing the emotional generosity necessary to deal with end-of-life issues. An absorbing account of the author's inner dark landscape made manifest! The inside becomes outside and we are engrossed in this compelling mother-daughter drama!
Profile Image for Barbara Stark-Nemon.
Author 2 books63 followers
July 27, 2017
Virginia Simpson’s The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life, is a poignant reminder that professional skill is not guaranteed to translate into personal life. Ginni Simpson is a bereavement specialist; with years of experience and her own non-profit engaged in helping children and families with facing death of a loved one. Yet in this honest and open memoir, she is subject to all the same frustrations, anger, anticipatory grief and fear that greet adult children who take responsibility for end of life care of a parent. With no other siblings to help, no family of her own, and some serious trauma from childhood, Ginni must reconcile past demons, the demands of her mother’s failing health and their sometimes tumultuous relationship, and her own friendships and work, all in ways she did not anticipate. By simply sharing her experience in a forthright, engaging narrative, Simpson provides an encouraging model for managing care of an aging parent with love. Bonus- dog and desert lovers are in for a special treat!
April 14, 2019
I started this book in the evening, intending to only read a few chapters before bed. I was 12 chapters in before I could convince myself to put it down, and I finished it the next day. Simpson drew me right in with her vivid detail, poignant self-examination, and complex rendering of the relationship she had with her mother in the last years of her life. I found myself cheering her on, and wanting to sit with her over coffee to vent or share stories. In other words, Simpson's emotional honesty made me feel close to her, something that matters when doing the often isolating work of caring for our aging parents.. So many of us will take care of our mothers in their final months or years, and books like The Space Between make perfect partners for us while we are caregiving and grieving.
Profile Image for Laura Summers.
6 reviews2 followers
April 1, 2016
Ginni's story shows how she embraced a challenging situation and learned how learned to breathe through life-changing circumstances. In Ginni's case, she writes about how she healed her relationship with her mother; and in the process, discovered how much her mother loved her in her own way; the only way her mother knew how to love based on her own experiences. The story is a good reminder of our humanness and the love that comes from letting go of expectations. I appreciated Ginni's authentic, and not sugar-coated, descriptive narrative of her experience. This story is a gift to all daughters!
2 reviews
October 22, 2017
The Space Between is a realistic analysis of family dynamics, mother and daughter relationships, including troubled teenage years, to the pivotal point when you realize a role reversal has taken place and you become the caregiver. This very poignant love story grows stronger as life changing circumstances are mitigated by Dr. Simpson who takes her ailing mother into her home to provide care for her and must then decide how to face end-of-life options. An excellent read for any daughter (or son) to know she is not alone when faced with challenges you could not possibly dream of encountering. This book is an enjoyable read providing a ray of hope and information.
Profile Image for Dede Janzen.
123 reviews
December 4, 2017
The author's "mother, Ruth, is diagnosed in 1999 with a life-threatening condition, Virginia is caught off guard by the storm of emotions she experiences when she is forced to inhabit the role of caregiver. In a quest to provide her mother with the best care possible, Virginia arranges for Ruth to move in with her and for the next six years, she cares for her, juggling her mother's doctor's appointments, meals, medication schedules, transportation needs, and often cranky moods with her own busy schedule." This Memoir is well written and as a previous hospice nurse this is a good book for families who take on the caretaking roll of their loved one. I enjoyed this book and give it 5 stars.
Profile Image for J.A. Wright.
Author 2 books111 followers
August 24, 2016
I aspire to be the type of person/daughter Virginia is, and I'm so glad I read her memoir before my six-week visit with my elderly, ill and very stubborn mother. Virginia's words let me know it was okay not to worry so much about the little things, to be gentle and try to find something okay about every situation. I had a great visit with my Mom and even though she called me by my sister's name the entire six weeks, I didn't feel the need to correct her or even mention it. The Space Between is a must read.
2 reviews
April 16, 2017
This May Sarton award winning memoir is a must read for anyone who cares about the complex and multi-faceted feelings that accompany the role reversal of taking care of a parent at the end of life. While Dr Simpson is a bereavement counselor, this book is a very personal story, filled with moments of terror and tenderness. All of us can relate to the complications and resolutions of issues long- built and worn heavily. It is lovely to see that, in this story, the love wins out and the hard-fought-for space between mother and daughter becomes an intimate and blessed one.
Profile Image for Betty Hafner.
Author 4 books63 followers
December 13, 2017
This lovely book moves readers through the years when Simpson, a psychologist specializing in grief work, has to come to terms with her own mother's decline, dependence on her, and eventual death. As with most of us, issues from the past complicate the process, and Simpson struggles with the confusing mix of love, resentment, need to please, and anger she feels. The uplifting end is impressively written. It would be a terrific choice for a support group or book club with women of a certain age who are in the midst of caring for parent. Highly recommended.
1 review
June 3, 2016
A beautifully written memoir about the deep love and respect shared by a very special mother and daughter. The book reads like a novel and is hard to put down! Ms. Simpson is both brave and vulnerable -- a real person dealing with the issues of her mother's end of life and their complex and extraordinary love. Everyone reading the book will see part of themselves and their family -- it's both poignant and positive and a great learning experience.
Profile Image for Bella Mahaya Carter.
Author 4 books14 followers
October 27, 2017
This heart-felt, unflinching memoir informed me about death and dying while helping me reflect on my relationships with my own mother and daughter. It kept me company as I relived my mom’s death, which brought her back to life for me. I felt very connected reading this—and happy to be in such capable hands. Virginia Simpson is a lovely soul, who mines her subject with mastery, compassion, and grace. I didn't want the book to end. Beautiful.
Profile Image for Evelyn.
10 reviews
April 8, 2017
This is an important book for all of us to read as we travel this path of life and death. Going between times Virginia Simpson paints a clear path to follow at this profound time in all our lives, witnessing our parents death. She helps us find the meaning, humor and humanity in it all. It is a universal life story told so well here.
Profile Image for Mary.
Author 2 books34 followers
January 23, 2017
The Space Between: A Memoir of Mother-Daughter Love at the End of Life delivers just what it promises. It’s full of love in many forms – the love that rolls its eyes, the love that holds hands, the love that asks questions, the love that opens its doors and the love that closes them. Some of the unusual aspects of the book include Dr. Simpson’s honesty about the gaping difference between her professional knowledge about grief and bereavement and her ability to help clients on the one hand, and her own guts and how much pain she feels as she confronts her own situation. She never minimizes the chaos of trying to sort through what she is and isn’t willing to do for her mother, or the welter of complicated feelings as her mother prefers her older brother among other issues. We watch wounds heal as the book proceeds, especially in “death’s waiting room,” a memorable phrase. One of the most important lessons of the book is the huge relief and improvement when Dr. Simpson makes the decision to move her mother into professional care, which transforms their relationship for the better. There are many comical scenes, as when the nurse hands the daughter the toenail clippers and leaves the room, and many beautiful ones, in which you can see that the inner beings of these two women who love one another are truly in contact. I loved the way the contrasting styles of mother and daughter are portrayed – the one coping with a stiff upper lip and lying down for a while, the other working with her own feelings and bringing them to light. It’s a joy to read the tale of how they mediate these differences, all the way to the end. A remarkably honest and valuable book about a very difficult subject.
Profile Image for Laurel.
Author 1 book80 followers
May 22, 2018
In this poignant and astonishingly lucid memoir, Simpson chronicles the arc of her difficult relationship with her mother. Grievances laid bare are not easily resolved. I was taken in by the internal wrestling of the author as she made me feel every emotion along with her. There is a certain rawness to this book which renders it particularly believable. I found I was putting myself in Simpson’s shoes over and over again - and I’m afraid I was not measuring up. The Space Between is fascinating reading for anyone who has tried, or is trying, to reconcile with a parent as time runs out. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Beth (bibliobeth).
1,906 reviews53 followers
July 28, 2016
First of all, many thanks to the author and publishers of this emotional memoir, She Writes Press, for providing me with a free copy in return for an honest review. I've got quite a strong relationship with my own mother and when I read the synopsis of this book, I knew I was going to be in for quite a heart-breaking ride. Well, I wasn't wrong. This is a fantastic piece of non-fiction that explores the author's own relationship with her mother as she faces chronic illness and the thing most people dread - old age and the inevitability of death peeking round the corner.

Ginni takes most (well actually, ALL) of the responsibility for her mother's health and well-being on her own shoulders. She has quite a frayed relationship with her older brother Peter after suffering physical and emotional abuse from him when they were younger and indeed, he doesn't seem to be particularly interested in many of the decisions Ginni has to make. She takes her mother into her own house as she can't face putting her in a care home although before long, the strain it places on her both physically and mentally becomes too much and also threatens the solidity of the "up and down" relationship that they do have.

What I loved so much about this book was how brutally honest it is and I really feel for the author as it must have been quite a traumatic, although hopefully cathartic experience to write and re-live her personal experiences with her mother. Her mother does love her, that much is clear - but she has a bit of a funny way of showing it sometimes, especially when it comes to her brother Peter who Ginni believes was the "favourite" of the family. It represents such an authentic mother-daughter relationship - the bumps in the road, the rebellions, the arguments and tears but at the end, such a deep love that cannot be taken away or denied.

I already knew before I began this book that I was going to be quite affected by it but I never realised how much until I started reading. It's very rare that a book makes me sob but with this one, some things just hit a little close to home and I really felt like I could sympathise and identify with Ginni. Even though the author works with those who have become bereaved I don't think anything can prepare you for the death of a parent and I can only hope that when I have to suffer this terrible experience, I can be half as strong as Ginni was. This is a no holds barred, true and very raw story of the love between parents and their children and I want to thank the author for sharing her life and innermost feelings in such a beautiful way.

For my full review and many more please visit my blog at http://www.bibliobeth.com
Profile Image for Bob Burdt.
1 review
July 31, 2016
The Space Between eloquently captures the experience of being a caretaker. The book reads like a novel and once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. This book offers hope to everyone that difficult relationships can be healed when two people are willing to keep,the lines of communication open. This is a must read.
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