yesterday, in the middle of a random power outage, I read Nora Ephron’s Final Act by her son, Jacob Bernstein. A fitting time to read an article about one of my favorite authors, a person whose biological power may have gone out but whose light is with us…
When Nora Ephron died last year, I was waiting for her next book; I did not know she was sick. I felt let down: she let me in so close, why didn’t she tell me she struggled with chronic illness? After all, I knew about Ms. Ephron’s neck, her meeting with JFK, and how much she would miss the city lights someday.
I accepted the end of my relationship with Nora as gracefully as I could. I read about her memorial service, I read her obituary; I goggled a few of her speaking engagements and listened to them. I thought about Ms, Ephron dressing up in her later years, always looking nice, and I accepted that it was ok to use my Barnes and Noble, $15 plastic book bag, as my purse because no matter how much I spent, the perfect purse alludes us.
But I wanted to understand, I wanted to know. Why didn’t she tell me she was dying?… how did it end, the story of her life, the horrible reality that as wisdom grows (I didn’t get it until I was 50, a concept of Ms. Ephron), the damn neck, and everything else, falls apart? And how am I suppose to die Nora, you told me about aging, what about the ending?
Thank you Jacob Bernstein, Nora Ephron’s son. You answered my questions, you gave me a sense of closure when I did not expect one. In your beautifully written article, you shared with us, Nora’s last days and I realized that waiting for her next piece is probably what she wanted me, part of her audience, to do. She was writing and dreaming of writing until the end.
It sounded like Max, her son, searched for closure when he said, “Mom, I’m going to miss you so much.” He didn’t get it, she replied with something about not being dead yet. I sympathize with what I filtered as his meaning: we want to know how to go on without them, our loved ones. Many of them won’t tell us, the sadness of the stage without them, too painful.
The sweetest thing Jacob Bernstein did was the thing he dubbed a failure. His mother organized a table at a party, which she could not attend, sick and in the hospital, she sent Jacob instead. Jacob talks about what a disaster the party turned out to be: “How useless I was, how incompetent. I spent nearly 34 years at the foot of one of New York’s best hostesses.” He did a good thing for his mother, he showed up, trying to grant her a wish that the party continue.
I am glad Nora Ephron’s son shared the final act, there is no humor about ending. If you love life, the news of your demise is plain heartbreaking. What did I learn about ending life: work on the next book and plan the next party.