We received notice from Samuel LeBaron’s family that he had died in late December: “Our beloved Sam has left his earthly body and is in free flight now.”
The note continued, “We really appreciate that you worked so hard to make Sam’s dream come true while he was still alive.” The dream was to publish his memoir, Ordinary Deaths: Stories from Memory. The urgency arose because Samuel was living with a terminal cancer diagnosis.
We engaged with Samuel on many levels while working on his book. He was a wonderful story teller and listener and enjoyed hearing about us and our families. So we shared our stories! About a mother who was a volunteer with a palliative care program for almost 20 years. About a child’s birthday party at a trampoline place for her birthday (“chaos!”). About a father who passed away just before Samuel died.
Samuel’s life and work touched many people. We know that his memoir will continue the work he was doing.
Here is what people have said about Ordinary Deaths: Stories from Memory to date.
Samuel LeBaron … has collected his lessons from a lifelong dance with death into a profound memoir…. LeBaron’s recollections brim with emotional insights, celebrate the virtue of honesty between caregiver and patient, and authentically depict the value of letting each person find their particular way to peace and acceptance…. Ordinary Deaths reminds us that each individual’s path to death is as different and unique as their own life has been. In our death-denying world, that is extraordinary indeed.” John Terauds, Quill & Quire [Full review]
“From the moment we are born we begin the journey to our inevitable death, and yet death is something we try not to think about. But from childhood, then as a psychologist, a morgue assistant, a physician, and finally as a patient, Samuel LeBaron has never stopped thinking about death. His unflinching gaze and profound insight, together with his lyrical and even rapturous prose, remind us that life is precious and poignant precisely because it ends. Simply put, Ordinary Deaths is extraordinary.” Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
“If we consider death at all, we tend to load it with drama—but the truth of death is more accessible, and less terrifying, if we’d only dare to look. Using his considerable imagination and experience, Samuel helps us to see the truth before us: profound and plain.” BJ Miller, physician, author
“Through LeBaron’s stories and the filter of his imagination, we witness his experiences as psychologist, physician and person. His clinical testimony makes us reflect: We may not want to look at death, but we can’t look away from it either. Our fascination with the death of others is often accompanied by the denial of our own death…. But the book is more than a memoir of how to face death: Ordinary Deaths is about how to face life.” Tony Errichetti, The Intima [Full review]
Samuel emailed back to say, “I love this review. It’s so beautifully written, it’s worth reading for its own sake, even for those who haven’t read the book.”
“Writing [Ordinary Deaths] was a 15-year process made all the more poignant by the fact that LeBaron is, himself, dying. Two and a half years ago, LeBaron was diagnosed with stage-4 lung cancer…. LeBaron’s ability to hold space for the uncertainty, mystery and doubts we have about dying is anything but ordinary.” Deb Cummings, Alumni News [Full article]
“Ordinary Deaths is a memoir that illuminates difficult topics of pain, illness, and death with the kindness of curiosity, converting these fearsome mysteries into shared experience. Samuel LeBaron proves we take comfort in communion, whether we are a five year-old facing bone marrow testing or the author, who himself is living with stage four lung cancer. LeBaron’s work in psychology and medicine, like his prose, is dappled with a naturalist’s gift for noticing.” Elee Kraljii Gardiner, editor of Against Death: 35 Essays on Living
“Dr. LeBaron balances compassion, emotional connection, and knowledge as he bravely confronts, and learns from, mortal illness in nature, patients, those he loves, and ultimately in himself. He shows how life and death are inextricably linked and invites us to appreciate that we are truly part of a spiral that connects us with each other on the deepest human level. In Ordinary Deaths, readers will find honesty, wisdom, and grace.” Dr. Joseph D. Stern, author of Grief Connects Us: A Neurosurgeon’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and Compassion