“The beautiful, vibrant, living world goes on.” Nina Riggs, who died in February, realized this truth during a mundane moment: While teaching her son to ride his bike, she stumbles and releases him. As Benny rides forward, he shouts behind him, checking on his mother.
It’s a simple moment, but to Riggs, whose triple negative breast cancer had been deemed terminal, it encapsulated so much more. When she was diagnosed at age 37, doctors expected her disease to be curable. It was one small spot of cancer, that was all. But it metastasized and, by age 38, Riggs knew the disease would kill her.
Riggs’ husband, John, longs for a return to normalcy. “I have to love these days in the same way I love any other. There might not be a ‘normal’ from here on out,” she responds. “These days are days. We choose how we hold them.”
As she endures chemotherapy and radiation, Riggs faces those days with a clear-eyed determination to fully live. Riggs, herself a poet, examines her impending death through her own lyrical perspective, informed by the writings of her great-great-great-grandfather, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and French philosopher Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.
Part of living, though, is death. Riggs must face it even before her own cancer is deemed terminal: Her mother’s multiple myeloma is fatal. The family concludes her mother’s funeral with an open-ended moment of silence, which Riggs struggles with. Shouldn’t they sound a gong or otherwise give those gathered permission to leave?
No, her brother says. “It’s about honoring the unknowing and the awkwardness and the mystery of dying. It’s unsettling—and that’s okay.”
Through this warmhearted memoir, Riggs writes her way to accepting her own death and the uncertainty that follows it. The Bright Hour is an introspective, well-considered tribute to life. As Riggs’ famed ancestor Emerson writes, “That is morning; to cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body and to become as large as the World.”