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 (previously Larson) has published her nonfiction essays in publications such as T: The New York Times Style Magazine and Time Out: New York, and she has edited manuscripts for Rolling Stone and Details. She holds an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from University of Minnesota and is currently a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.