New book shares family's 'conversation about dying’
When Ellen Anderson was dying, she asked an American Indian healer and a Methodist pastor to visit her. The healer gave the Two Harbors woman a name, Good Moon, and the pastor prayed with her family for joy and calm. She was surrounded by her children as she first stopped eating and then gave up water before passing away.
Now, one of her daughters, Leslie Moore, has written a book about those last days. She said she hopes it encourages more people to talk about how they want to die so they can make choices — like Anderson did — when they are still of sound mind.
“ ‘Turn Right, Good Moon’ is a conversation about dying,” Moore said from her home in Australia. “I hope that our readers, when they’ve finished the story, are inspired to have similar conversations with the people they love.”
The family will gather in Duluth on Thursday for a book signing and a celebration of Anderson’s life.
Anderson moved to Two Harbors in 1985 after decades of teaching in Duluth and on the Iron Range. She quickly became a pillar of the community, organizing events, welcoming locals and travelers into her home and enjoying the nature surrounding her. She was the force behind the first Two Harbors Kayak Festival, and her daughter Ginny Green said she loved meeting new friends.
“She wanted to always widen the circle and include people,” Green said.
That’s why her 2011 death sent shockwaves through the community. She was diagnosed with cancer in November and died in December. When she learned she was dying, she sent a note to Moore.
“You know how I am attracted to adventures,” she wrote to her daughter. “Well, this will be a humdinger!”
Anderson decided against chemotherapy and radiation, and told her kids she wanted to die like the San people —African hunter-gatherers who forgo food and then water when they sense death is near.
Green, a nurse in St. Cloud, volunteered her house for the adventure. Her kids welcomed hospice nurses into the home and made Anderson as comfortable as possible. “Turn Right, Good Moon” tells the story of those last weeks.
The book is short — it can be read in an hour — but rich with imagery and emotion. Following the Native American healer’s cue, each of Anderson’s children chose a new name for the story, representing the “character” they played in Anderson’s last days.
“Each of us chose our own name. Each of us thought about what we brought to our mother’s dying, and each of us chose a name that tried to capture our particular experience,” Moore said.
Moore was The Artisan and Green was The Constant One. Green said it made the book more relatable — those reading can find themselves in the cast of characters.
“You kind of find yourself looking for, ‘Which one would I be right now?’ ” she said.
Green said she has no reservations about sharing such a personal story with the world because her sister gave all six siblings veto power during the editing process. In addition, she said the greater goal — encouraging people to plan for their last days — is too important to ignore.
“We, as a country, need to have this conversation,” Green said. “All you can do is start with your own community.”
As a nurse, Green has seen families deal with dying in all sorts of ways. The lesson she’s learned from her years in hospitals is that it’s always better to make end-of-life decisions early on, before a loved one is in the ICU.
“I’ve seen other families really embrace their family member dying in a healing way and then I’ve seen families who just weren’t there,” she said. “To me, what the most important thing is that families discuss it ahead of time.”
Moore said she learned a lot from her mother’s grace and quiet strength in those last days and wants to share those lessons.
“My mother taught me so many things over the years, and her final gift was teaching me how I might want to approach death,” Moore said. “What a wonderful thing for a mother to give a child — an introduction to death that reduces the child’s fear of something that she, herself, will need to experience one day.”
If you go What: Book signing of “Turn Right, Good Moon”
Where: Northland Country Club, 3901 E. Superior Street
When: 4-7 p.m. Thursday
Free. Copies of the book will be available for purchase.