Beyond the High Blue Air: A Memoir by Lu Spinney
“Lu Spinney has a tragic story to tell. The circumstances are unique. But what she expresses—disbelief, hope, anger, dismay—is universal. And the ethical questions she raises are vitally important. Most important, she writes beautifully.” —Blake Morrison, author of When Did You Last See Your Dad, winner of the J.R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography
“Impossible to read this eloquent, heart-breakingly well-written record of a mother's loss without realizing that the people you love are all also standing on the precipice edge Lu Spinney describes so well.” —Francis Spufford, author of Golden Hill
"I couldn't put this beautiful memoir down. . . Though this is a memoir of deep suffering, it is also a story of deep love, strength and hope." —Shirley Tupper Freeman, bookseller, Bookbug (Kalamazoo, MI)
"A painful account made beautiful by Spinney’s poignant details and tender insight." —Booklist
When Lu Spinney’s twenty-nine-year-old son, Miles, flies up on his snowboard, “he knows he is not in control as he is taken by force up the ramp,” writes his mother, “skewing sideways as his board clips the edge and then he is hurtling, spinning up, up into the free blue sky ahead . . .” He lands hard on the ice and falls into a coma.
This begins the erratic loss—Miles first in a coma and then trapped in a fluctuating state of minimal consciousness—that unravels over the next five years. Spinney, her husband, and three other children put their lives on hold to tend to Miles at various hospitals and finally in a care home. They hold out hope that he will be returned to them. With blunt precision, Spinney chronicles her family’s intimate experience.
This is a story about ambiguous loss: the disappearance of someone who is still there. Three quarters of the way through, however, Spinney’s story takes a turn. The family and, to the degree that he can communicate, Miles himself come to view ending his life as the only possible release from the prison of his body and mind. Spinney, cutting her last thread of hope, wishes for her son to die. But because Miles is diagnosed as being in a “minimally conscious state” rather than a “persistent vegetative state,” there is no legal way to bring about his death, a bewildering paradox that Spinney navigates with compassion and wisdom.
Encompassing the lyrical revelations of a memoir like Jean-Dominique Bauby’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and the crucial medical and moral insights of a book such as Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, Lu Spinney’s Beyond the High Blue Air is at once a portrait of the fearlessness of familial love and the profound dilemma posed by modern medicine.