Book Review: Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer

I think that people who are given the opportunity to say their goodbyes are indeed blessed. Too often, people are taken away from their families in an unexpected instant – an accident on the roads, a natural disaster, a sudden medical emergency.

In this book ‘Five Days Left’, you’ll read about the lives of Mara who is a successful lawyer, and Scott who helps foster an eight-year-old child during the year his mother is in jail. By the end of the book, a 404-page tome which took Julie Lawson Timmer two years to write, one family gets a happy ending, while the other gets a sorrowful one. Read the book to find out the details. I’m trying hard not to include spoilers here. 😀


Mara has the rug pulled out from under her when she has to give up her lucrative and demanding law practice because of Huntington’s Disease. HD is a genetic brain disorder that leads to uncontrolled movements, loss of cognition, etc. And in just one book, the author has given me an invaluable insight into the life of a sufferer of HD, and an understanding of how it affects the people around the patient.

From commanding respect in a courtroom to embarrassing her kid in school, Maya was certainly a hapless victim to “this terrorist of a disease”. At the ripe old age of 42, she had to buy adult diapers for herself in a sneaky fashion – trying to avoid detection by other people in the store, and hiding the diaper packets under other merchandise in her shopping basket, just like how some young men try to hide condoms under newspapers before sheepishly heading to the cashier! It would actually be funny if it weren’t so sad!

The reason she had to buy adult diapers is because she actually peed in her pants while at a grocery store, and was utterly mortified by the reaction of a kid who spotted this weird lady who did not make it in time to the bathroom. The kid’s mom sympathetically gave her paper towels to wipe up the mess but it was of little help. This part of the story reminds me of what the Singaporean Of The Year, Noriza A. Mansor, did to help the elderly man who had soiled himself while grocery-shopping at a supermarket in Toa Payoh.

And from that point onwards, it’d be downhill for Mara. She’d also have to grapple with thoughts of Tom with another woman (after she dies), what would happen to her (adopted) daughter, etc. At one point, she actually voiced out her thoughts to Tom:

“I know how much better off Laks would be with me in an urn on the mantel, rather than as an object of ridicule in the school hallways. I know how much better life would be for you with me out of the way, and room for some young, healthy bombshell to sweep in and take my place. Someone you can look at with pride rather than pity.”

I think the author has done a brilliant job in highlighting the struggles Mara goes through in deciding whether or not she should take her own life, and also, if she does want to commit suicide, when and how she should do it. Would it eventually still be vodka, sleeping pills and carbon monoxide? Read this book to find out!

As for Scott, Curtis’ entrance into his life was set to change it forever. Curtis’ mother, a drug addict, had to serve time for drug possession, and Scott and his wife took Curtis in for the year that she was in jail. The couple had been trying to have a kid for 3 years, and spent a lot of money on IVF, but to no avail. Eventually, Curtis’ lousy mother gets out of jail, and wants to take Curtis home way before the agreed-upon date, claiming she misses her son. Scott is devastated. What happens in the end? You’ll have to get a copy of this book to know. 🙂

Meanwhile, one thing about parenting struck me. No matter how lousy some parents are, the State should in no way interfere. “The state has no right to require perfection from parents.” Yes, some parents will sell their children’s belongings in order to get money to fuel their drug habit, some won’t bother with packing their lunchboxes or ensuring they have enough money for food, and yet more others won’t care that their children share their beds with cockroaches. But the State cannot, and should not, take children away from their biological parents. Hmm.

About ‘Last Meals’

“When you are actually going to have your last meal, you’ll either be too sick to have it or you aren’t gonna know it’s your last meal and you could squander it on something like a tuna melt and that would be ironic. So it’s important… I feel it’s important to have that last meal today, tomorrow, soon.” – a quote in the book that is attributed to Nora Ephron.

Wow. I’d consider it a privilege to be able to plan my own last meal.

I think it would be a blessing to be able to say goodbye, in the company of loving friends and family, without too much pain or struggle, and certainly with smiles through the tears. And hopefully, without the gnawing thought that there’s just five days left. Good book. Go read it.


‘Five Days Left’ is available in bookstores, at S$21.45 before GST. 🙂