Turning the pages until the very end

What are you reading?

Talk about a question that caught my attention.

I’m thinking about Will Schwalbe’s question for his mother as she faced a devastating medical diagnosis. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

The question wasn’t “Why our family?” or even “How are we going to beat this?” After all, the doctors had explained beating such advanced disease was not an option.

No, Will’s question for his mother as he sat by her side in a cancer ward in 2007 was simply, “What are you reading?”

Odd? Not what you were expecting either? Perhaps on first glance. I think upon further inspection, you’ll find it one of the most inspired questions you’ve ever heard.

Will knew his mother had not been feeling well for some time. “We honestly thought she had some nasty bug from international travel,” he said. “Doctors would clear it up with drugs and she would live to 100.”

Sadly, that was not how Mary Anne Schwalbe’s story would go. So when Will found himself sitting by her side for hour after of hour of treatment, he went where he often went with his mother — to their shared love of books.

Her first answer to that question, “What are you reading?” was “Crossing to Safety” by Wallace Stegner. It turned out to be the answer that inspired the kickoff of what essentially became a two-person book club. They spent the last two years of her life reading, sharing and discussing books.

“Reading books together helped me get to know my mother better.” Will remembered. “We could talk about things that were so uncomfortable to discuss.”

“We talked about courage through the character of Kitty, who is dying in ‘Crossing to Safety.’ Was Kitty brave? I could say, ‘Well, you know, Mom, some people say you are brave the way you’re facing your illness.’”

“What did she say to that?” I wanted to know, feeling like I was inviting myself into their intimate conversation.

“She said, ‘If I were really brave, I would stop all treatment right now and the money would go to research.’ ”

Wow. Will’s mom sure seemed like one remarkable woman.

Imagine what it would be like to read and discuss “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “Continental Drift.” Mysteries, the classics, fantasy and spiritual.

Will invites you into the journey he shared with his mom in his new book, “The End of Your Life Book Club.”

It’s not a book about dying. It’s a book about living and figuring out how you are going to do that.

Mary Anne Schwalbe knew. “My mom really had the desire to live her dying,” Will shared. “Reading was one of her most important things. It wasn’t an escape. It was living, staying engaged with the world.”

From where I sit, Will and his mom figured out the thing most of us never do. The choice isn’t about the terrible thing that happens to you. I mean who picks Stage 4 pancreatic cancer? The choice and power come in how to spend the time you have left.

“It’s why I called it ‘The End of Your Life Book Club,’ ” he explained. “You don’t have to wait until someone is dying or sick. Who really knows when you’ve read your last book? This ability to share and engage — do it now.”

Which leads me to the question: What are you reading?

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