To Save a Life


“Nor did I mind the physicality of the labor when I emptied my grandmother’s portable commode or rubbed cool lotion on the burning soles of my grandfather’s feet; it made me feel useful. But when I saw my grandma see me and pretend not to and I knew she was ashamed and angry but also helpless to do anything differently; when my grandfather turned his head away from me and whispered, “This is terrible, terrible,” and I knew he meant not his pain or even his dying but my witnessing it—that is what I ran across the country from.”—Heather McPherson

In her affecting essay “To Save a Life,” Heather McPherson assesses the risks, the costs, and the potential rewards associated with engaging directly with human suffering and mortality.

Heather McPherson is a Senior Lecturer in English at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. She has published nonfiction essays in Time Out: New York and T: The New York Times Style Magazine and edited manuscripts for Rolling Stone and Details. She received an M.F.A. in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Minnesota.