The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks by Robin Romm

The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three WeeksThe Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks
by Robin Romm
Scribner, 2009
ISBN: 978-1416567929
213 p.p.

In this recollection of the last three weeks of her mother’s life, Robin Romm tells of the various internal struggles she faced while seeing the strongest pillar in her life come crashing down. The book, which started as a coping mechanism for Robin and not intended for an audience, turned out to be a raw tribute to any daughter losing her mother. Romm turned the time she had before her mother’s death into a story about a daughter in the moments before and after loss. Her mother, Jackie Romm, a lawyer who had always been a strong woman, was diagnosed with breast cancer when Robin was 19. She had been living with breast cancer for nine years, enduring the pain of day to day cancer treatments while having a hospice nurse take care of her. Suddenly, it became too much for Jackie and the family feared she will leave their side. Robin was then asked to come home to see her mother for the last time.

When Robin comes home, she faces what has become of her once very strong mother. The book has various flashbacks that help the reader understand the relationship between Robin and her family. The flashbacks are necessary since it has been almost a decade since Jackie has dealt with the cancer. Robin is challenged by the relationship she has with her mother due to the socially constructed roles of womanhood and motherhood. A mother is the first woman you encounter, therefore she serves as the image you perceive of what a woman should be like. Society has expectations for what mothers and women should be like, therefore we tend to measure whomever we have as a female role model in front of us to these social standards. If a woman becomes a mother, yet still remains a professional, society ensures to always judge her by her mothering rather than her career.

Robin sees first-hand what cancer is doing to her mother. Jackie can no longer take care of herself like she used to. She is not the independent woman she once was and now must depend on her husband, daughter, and hospice to take care of her. Jackie becomes very frail and is not the woman Robin remembers growing up. She has become someone else who is being devoured by cancer.

Robin used to be able to come to her mother for everything and know that her mother would give her advice, but because of the progression of the cancer, Jackie’s speech is slurred. Robin feels as if she was robbed of her mother by the cancer because she stopped being the independent women she knew all too well. Society portrays women as aspiring mothers, therefore they tend to be subjected to scrutiny by society since a mother is seen as selfless and must operate in the best interest of her children instead of her own. If our mother is not like the mother society portrays, we feel as if something is wrong with her because she is not being represented.

Throughout the book, Robin includes a lot of symbolism, like when she wanted to get a dog once she found out her mother was terminally ill. She looks into finding a dog to fill a void, as well as give her mother something to recognize as a grandchild in some way. Robin does not have any children of her own and she feels that by getting a dog she can include her mother in the life of this dog and keep her mother alive in the future because it would keep her connected. Robin finds comfort in her dog, Mercy, who symbolizes the mercy she is screaming for in regards to her mother. She does not want to lose her mother but she knows that her mother’s time is short. Robin wants to continue having her mother in her life and by including her in adopting a rescue dog, she feels as if her mother will never leave her.

Her mother’s illness resulted in Robin wanting to be closer to her mother and ask her questions because she felt if she got the answers it would be ok for her mother to die. It is hard for her to ask questions because it also means that she will be ready to let her mother go. Asking her mother about her youth, how it was to be pregnant, her time studying abroad, and what she and her father spoke of when they were younger, allows Robin to have a greater sense of who her mother was. It made her realize that even though her mother had not always been close to her, especially in her rebellious years, there was so much she could relate to.

This book is great for an insight on loss and mother-daughter relationships. Robin portrays her struggles so vividly, which allows readers to relate and realize that loss is dealt with in various ways. There is no universal way to deal with loss; it does not end. It continues on, but we must learn to cherish and celebrate those who are no longer with us.


Robin RommRobin Romm was born in Eugene, Oregon. She is an American fiction and nonfiction writer. She studied English Literature at Brown University and won the prestigious Barbara Banks Brodsky prize in fiction. Romm received her MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University after two years of working as an employment discrimination investigator. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon and teaches a low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College.

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