How do we live with love and integrity when times turn harder than we ever imagined? How can we nurture ourselves, each other, and this living Earth when faced with the unimaginable? Those are the main themes of Susan Tweit’s new memoir Bless the Birds: Living with Love in a Time of Dying, a personal journey through the terra incognita of life’s ending. Bless the Birds, which was just named a finalist for the Sarton Women’s Book Awards, shows us how to be our best when life throws us the worst. Embracing the idea that love will carry us through, this story reminds us that the personal is the political. How we live—each and every day—really does impact the larger world. Our every day actions create the society we live in, and also chart our paths.
Susan and her economist-turned-sculptor husband Richard Cabe had just settled into their version of a “good life” when Richard saw thousands of birds one day—harbingers of the brain cancer that would kill him two years later. This compelling and intimate memoir chronicles their journey into the end of his life, framed by their final trip together, a 4,000-mile-long delayed honeymoon road trip.
Bless the Birds is both prayer and love song, a guide to how to thrive in a world where all we hold dear seems to be eroding, whether that’s simple civility and respect, our health and safety, or the Earth itself. It’s an invitation to live in the light of what we love rather than the darkness of what we fear.
- Why write a memoir about dying? What does this story have to say to those who are busy with living?
- You give away the ending of the story at the beginning. What purpose does that serve?
- Bless the Birds is written as a story within a story. Did you start out with it that way, and if not, why did you chose that structure?
- You included some very personal details in this narrative. How did you decide what to include and what to leave out?
- Nature seems almost like another character in this story. What role does it play, and why?
- How long did it take you to write Bless the Birds? What is your writing process, and how did you know when the memoir was finished?
I’m a plant biologist with a calling to restore nature and our connection with the community of the land, especially right at home where we live, work and play. Plants are my “people”—I am fascinated by the myriad ways they weave the world’s living communities, forming the green tapestry that covers this planet, and providing homes, food, natural materials, and the oxygen we breathe.
I began my career as a field ecologist studying sagebrush, grizzly bears, and wildfires. I reveled in the work and the time outside in the West’s expansive landscapes, but eventually realized I loved the stories in the data more than collecting those data. So I learned how to tell those stories, not an easy trick for a scientist schooled in dispassionate, impersonal prose.
My writing rises from the intersection of head and heart, love and loss, science and storytelling, hope and grief, devastation and restoration—from the well of life itself.
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