Six hundred and four thousand, eight hundred: the number of seconds in the last week of Flippa’s life. The narrator’s gran is called Flippa because for years she put on her wetsuit and flippers every morning and “flippa-flopped” down to the sea for a good swim. But she doesn’t swim anymore. Now she is very sick, and Flippa has decided that, in one week’s time, a doctor will come and give her medicine to put her to sleep.
As the child narrator counts down these last precious moments with Flippa, visitors arrive with food and flowers, and they laugh and cry and reminisce about the good times. Although Flippa seems at peace, she laments that she won’t get to taste this year’s ripe tomatoes, and the next day she jokes with the greengrocer that the plants he sold her are defective because they are slow at producing ripe tomatoes. However, on the last day, a miracle: there is one ripe tomato! The child picks it and takes it joyfully to Flippa – it’s the perfect goodbye gift.
This emotionally compelling story portrays what happens when a loved one requests medical assistance in dying (MAID). The sadness of the child narrator and their parents is juxtaposed with the warmth and camaraderie that those who love Flippa feel because they all have a chance to say goodbye.
Richardson’s text is spare and centred on the child’s experience; it does not take us to the moment of death, but instead to the giving of one final, precious gift. Emilie Leduc’s stylized black-and-white illustrations are the perfect accompaniment, using light and shadow to emphasize key elements that resonate thematically (a clock, bright flowers, the sun on people’s faces, the tomato plant), as well as open doors that suggest passages from one state to the next. The final illustration with the red tomato – the one splash of colour in the book – captures a moment of joy in the midst of the child’s sorrow.
An afterword by Dr. Stefanie Green provides an explanation of MAID and some resources for parents. This sensitive story hits all the right emotional notes and will be of great help to kids and families facing this situation.