Amanda and Madeline Lamb at a 2007 book signing in Chester County
In a room at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Amanda Lamb listened intently as the patient detailed her illness. It was April 20, 2012. Earlier that day, she’d heard the diagnosis: a grade IV glioblastoma that, in all probability, was going to kill the patient.
A journalist and an author of several books, Amanda took detailed notes. But this was no ordinary assignment. Her mother, respected Chester County lawyer Madeline Lamb, was the one with the brain tumor. The story of Madeline’s death would form the real-life basis for her daughter’s latest book, The Living Room (CreateSpace, 273 pages).
Or is it about her life?
“What I learned for sure is that how you die can be a reflection of how you lived,” says Amanda. “Within hours—or maybe it was minutes—of learning about her brain tumor, I knew that I wanted her to be at my home, surrounded by family and friends. That was how my mother lived her life, and it was a truly tremendous life.”
Madeline Hartsell Lamb was born in North Carolina the day after Christmas in 1940. She moved to the Main Line in 1962 as the young wife of soon-to-be prominent attorney William Lamb. They lived first in Malvern, then Devon, raising two children. Hardly a stay-at-home mom, Madeline worked, first as an English teacher at Radnor High School, then at her gift shop in Paoli.
But she wanted more. “She had this unending thirst for knowledge,” says Amanda, a crime reporter for an award-winning CBS affiliate in Raleigh, N.C. “It became very clear that her brain needed something to do.”
Madeline chose her husband’s career, graduating from Villanova University School of Law in 1978 as one of the only women in her class. As if finishing school while raising two kids wasn’t hard enough, she was also dealing with trouble in her marriage, which eventually led to a divorce. Nonetheless, by 1985, Madeline
had a thriving family-law practice in West Chester. “For sure, it was a male-dominated field, and she worked very hard for long, long hours,” Amanda says. “But she absolutely loved it. And she maintained her femininity, despite being in an aggressive field.”
Madeline was known for her L.A. Law-caliber sense of style. “She was [always] beautifully put together in a fabulous suit, with her hair and makeup done perfectly,” says Amanda, “She was still a Southern belle—and a whip-smart attorney.”
Amanda followed her mother’s example as a gender pioneer. Matriculating at Episcopal Academy with its first coed class in 1984, she entered the male-dominated field of broadcast journalism. She moved up and down the East Coast, honing her chops as a journalist and eventually landing in North Carolina.
With her husband, Reginald Griffin, Amanda has two daughters, Mallory and Chloe. She has also written seven books: three parenting memoirs, a trio of true crime outings, and one title for kids. “Watching my mother create a high-powered career molded me,” says Amanda. “It shaped my desire to pursue [what I] wanted and not be impeded by my gender.”
With one phone call, Amanda Lamb’s busy life came to a screeching halt. That April afternoon, she was in a news truck, returning from an assignment, when her mother called from the emergency room at Paoli Hospital. Doctors had discovered a mass in her brain, and she needed to be transferred to Jefferson. Within hours, Amanda was on a plane to Philadelphia.
Though her first call had been laced with understandable panic, Madeline was sitting up in her hospital bed and explaining her wishes by the time her daughter arrived. “I sat on the window ledge in that room and took notes on my computer,” Amanda recalls. “Within those first 72 hours, Mom told me everything she wanted and didn’t want about her funeral. She told me about her finances and her belongings, and where she wanted them to go. She was very specific.”
Certain pieces of jewelry would be sold to benefit a legal-aid organization. Part of Madeline’s art collection would be donated to the Chester County Art Association; other things would go to Paoli Presbyterian Church. She even had certain things picked out for the women who did her dry cleaning. “She gave me her living will, her will and her power of attorney,” says Amanda. “Of course, she had them prepared because she was a lawyer and was 71 years old. But more than that, she needed to let go of these responsibilities and know that I would take them on. This brilliant, independent woman handed me her life and said, ‘Take care of it.’”
Eleven weeks after her diagnosis, Madeline Lamb died. She spent the end of her life in a hospital bed in her daughter’s living room—hence, the title of Amanda’s memoir. Far from a philosophical rumination on the meanings of life and death, The Living Room offers in-depth details on the rigors of caregiving.
And while the physical aspects of Madeline’s decline make for unpleasant reading, most, if not all, caregivers share the experience of becoming intimate with their loved ones’ basic bodily functions. “Nothing will shred your dignity faster than your adult child having to take care of your every physical need. My mother was mortified,” Amanda admits. “I spent a lot of time reassuring her that there was nothing to be embarrassed about. She did it for me when I was a child and would do it for me again if she had to.”
At the same time, Amanda battled medical billing companies and became an expert on home health aides and pharmaceuticals. Her career was put on hold, as was her marriage. Luckily, her husband had a strong relationship with Madeline. “He was amazing,” she says. “My brother suddenly became dependable. My father handled a lot of legal issues. Friends and family took care of my kids, cooked for us, and came to spend time with Mom.”
How did Amanda cope? “Having all the tasks and logistics allowed me to not focus on my emotions. I told myself that there would be time to deal with it later,” she confesses. “But it comes out anyway. I had a really short fuse. I had a lot of anger. I’d cry in my car at intersections.”
She still cries—but differently. “Every single day, I say or do something, and I hear my mother’s voice in my head,” Amanda says. “She lives on through the book and my talking about her in public, and in how I live my life and how my children live theirs. The greatest legacy Madeline Lamb left is the example of her own life—and her death.”