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Additions to Awakenings


The death of my mother
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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So the... the summer of '72 was a joyous time with the Golden Wedding of my parents, my brother from Australia coming with his wife and little children, and... and completing the case histories. But then... but there was some... I think there was some premonition, I don’t know, I had a sort of fear, I always have fears and premonitions of... of death, and accidents and... my own or... or others. I went back to New York, and then in November I got a phone call from my brother David saying that our mother had died, that she’d had a fatal heart attack in Israel. I... I flew back to London. I think the relationship with my mother was very close, and probably rather ambivalent. And... but I was devastated by her death and what kept me going for the first week was the formal mourning, the sitting Shiva, when all the family – including the surviving siblings of my mother – we all sat on low chairs and people would... and the food was made for us, and people came and talked, often happily and joyfully about her. This was not just a sharing of misery, it was a sharing of celebrations.

Many of her students came along and I heard stories which I’d never heard before of... of her generosity to students. How she had even sent some of them through medical school. It was also clear from listening to my cousins that my mother could be a marvellous aunt, although I thought in some ways she’d been a terrifying mother. But she was gone, and then after the Shiva I was in... I don’t know what to call it, but a very intense and lamenting and tearful mood. And it was then that I stayed in London and wrote the rest... the rest of Awakenings. [John] Donne’s meditations on his sickness were very much in my mind.


Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Israel

Duration: 3 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012