A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Eggers’s Mother (Heidi Eggers) Character Analysis

Eggers, Beth, Toph, and Bill’s mother. At the beginning of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Heidi Eggers has already undergone multiple treatments for stomach cancer. After several operations and many emergency room visits, she decides she never wants to return to the hospital, resolving to die at home if it comes to it. However, Eggers and Beth convince her to break this rule when she gets a nosebleed that won’t clot. Although she relents and goes to the hospital this time, she dies not long after coming back home. When Eggers remembers her in later sections of his memoir, he portrays her as a kindhearted but harsh person. She forces her husband to control his drinking, but when this fails, she resigns to the reality of his alcoholism, though she limits the amount he consumes in the house. When she gets angry, she often hits her children in the head, though this becomes less serious when Bill—the oldest—decides to start laughing and ducking away from her when she swats at him, turning the ordeal into a joke that even she finds funny. Like his worries about Toph, Eggers frets about the fact that he has written so many personal details about his mother, knowing that she wouldn’t approve of his efforts to publicly represent her dying days. When he returns to Illinois for a wedding, he finally tracks down her ashes (which have been sitting in the funeral home all these years) and decides to spread them on Lake Michigan. As he does so, he once again second-guesses himself, wondering if she would actually want to be released into the lake. Nonetheless, he decides that this is the best way to honor her.

Eggers’s Mother (Heidi Eggers) Quotes in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

The A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius quotes below are all either spoken by Eggers’s Mother (Heidi Eggers) or refer to Eggers’s Mother (Heidi Eggers). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius published in 2001.
Acknowledgements Quotes

[…] an incomparable loss begets both constant struggle and heart-hardening, but also some unimpeachable rewards, starting with absolute freedom, interpretable and of use in a number of ways. And though it seems inconceivable to lose both parents in the space of 32 days […] and to lose them to completely different diseases (cancer, sure, but different enough, in terms of location, duration, and provenance), that loss is accompanied by an undeniable but then of course guilt-inducing sense of mobility, of infinite possibility, having suddenly found oneself in a world with neither floor nor ceiling.

Page Number: xviii
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

This part concerns the unshakable feeling one gets, one thinks, after the unthinkable and unexplainable happens—the feeling that, if this person can die, and that person can die, and this can happen and that can happen…well, then, what exactly is preventing everything from happening to this person, he around whom everything else happened? If people are dying, why won’t he? If people are shooting people from cars, if people are tossing rocks down from overpasses, surely he will be the next victim. If people are contracting AIDS, odds are he will, too.

Page Number: xxiii
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 1 Quotes

I’ll keep sharp objects out of proximity, I had joked to the doctor. The doctor did not chuckle. I wondered if he had heard me. I considered repeating it, but then figured that he had probably heard me but had not found it funny. But maybe he didn’t hear me. I thought briefly, then, about supplementing the joke somehow, pushing it over the top, so to speak, with the second joke bringing the first one up and creating a sort of one-two punch. No more knife fights, I might say. No more knife throwing, I might offer, heh heh. But this doctor does not joke much. Some of the nurses do. It is our job to joke with the doctors and nurses. It is our job to listen to the doctors, and after listening to the doctors, Beth usually asks the doctors specific questions […] and sometimes I ask a question, and then we might add some levity and a witty aside. I know that I should joke in the face of adversity; there is always humor, we are told. But in the last few weeks, we haven’t found much. We have been looking for funny things, but have found very little.

Related Characters: Dave Eggers (speaker), Eggers’s Mother (Heidi Eggers), Beth Eggers
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Would we have enough towels? God no. We could use sheets, we have plenty of sheets— It might be only a few hours. Would that be enough time? What’s enough time? We would talk a lot. Yes. We would sum up. Would we be serious, sober, or funny? We would be serious for a few minutes— Okay okay okay okay. Fuck, what if we ran out of things to say and— We’ve already made the necessary arrangements. Yes, yes, we wouldn’t need to talk details. We’d have Toph come up. Would we have Toph come up? Of course, but… oh he shouldn’t be there, should he? Who wants to be there at the very end? No one, no one. But for her to be alone…of course she won’t be alone, you’ll be there, Beth’ll be there, dumb-ass. Fuck.

Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 4 Quotes

You know, to be honest, though, what I see is less a problem with form, all that garbage, and more a problem of conscience. You’re completely paralyzed with guilt about relating all this in the first place, especially the stuff earlier on. You feel somehow obligated to do it, but you also know that Mom and Dad would hate it, would crucify you […]. But then again, I should say, and Bill and Beth would say—well, probably not Bill, but definitely Beth—that your guilt, and their disapproval, is a very middlebrow, middle-class, midwestern sort of disapproval. It’s superstition as much as anything—like the primitives who fear the camera will take their soul. You struggle with a guilt both Catholic and unique to the home in which you were raised. Everything there was a secret—for instance, your father being in AA was not to be spoken of, ever, while he was in and after he stopped attending. You never told even your closest friends about anything that happened inside that house. And now you alternately rebel against and embrace that kind of suppression.

Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 10 Quotes

I had loved how vague it was before. Where are they? Well, that’s a good question. Where were they buried? Another interesting question. That was the beauty of my father’s way. We knew that he had been diagnosed, but not how sick he was. We knew that he was in the hospital, but then not how close he was. It had always felt strangely appropriate, and his departure was made complete, as was hers, by the fact that the ashes never found us in California, that we had moved, and moved again, and again, dodging, weaving.

Page Number: 374
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius LitChart as a printable PDF.
A heartbreaking work of staggering genius.pdf.medium

Eggers’s Mother (Heidi Eggers) Character Timeline in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

The timeline below shows where the character Eggers’s Mother (Heidi Eggers) appears in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface to This Edition
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...intended to appear in the middle of the book. They detail, variously: Eggers watching his mother in the hospital while lying on an extra bed with his sister Beth and little... (full context)
Chapter 1
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
It is December, and Eggers’s mother is dying on the couch in their home in Lake Forest, Illinois. She has stomach... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Eggers describes the progression of his mother’s illness, including the brief period after she did chemotherapy when it seemed like everything might... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...opportunity to go out, she likes it when Eggers is home. Now, while holding his mother’s nose, Eggers gazes at the fishless fish tank, which is still full of gauzy water.... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
When his mother’s oncologist told them that “any bleeding could be the end,” Eggers wasn’t worried. “There seemed... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
As Eggers holds his mother’s nose again, Toph comes upstairs from the basement, where he has been playing video games.... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
It has been ten minutes, and Egger’s mother’s nose has not stopped bleeding. She had another nosebleed two weeks ago, and when Beth... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
“We are both distantly worried about the bleeding nose, my mother and I, but are for the time being working under the assumption that the nose... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Half an hour later, Eggers stops holding his mother’s nose, and for a moment it seems the bleeding has stopped, but then it flows... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Eggers asks his mother what she wants to do about her nose, which won’t stop bleeding. “I think we... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Beth takes Eggers’s place holding the ice to their mother’s nose, and Eggers goes downstairs to tell Toph that he’ll order pizza soon. When he... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...goes back into the living room, Eggers contemplates how long it would take for his mother to bleed to death. He wonders if there are enough towels in the house to... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...living room saying, “Mom, we should go in.” Joining the conversation, he too urges their mother to visit the hospital, and she eventually says, “Look at you two, Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Back in the family room, Eggers picks up his mother and carries her to the car, promising not to let her head hit the doorframe—a... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Eggers’s mother spends the night in the emergency room, followed by a day in intensive care. She’s... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...Toph in the hospital, Beth remembers with a start that the next day is their mother’s birthday. She reminds Eggers, and they decide to go to the gift shop to buy... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Telling the story of his mother’s final days, Eggers switches to the future tense, saying, “We’ll get her out in a... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...will be morphine,” Eggers writes. Soon enough, the doses won’t be enough to soothe his mother, so he and Beth will order more and they will obtain permission to choose the... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...Eggers explains that he and Beth will sell the family house a week after their mother dies. Toph will finish third grade while he himself drops classes. Eggers won’t earn his... (full context)
Chapter 6
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...acknowledges this but insists he wasn’t rich. He talks about his parents, explaining that his mother was a teacher and his father a lawyer, and when Laura asks if their family... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...he saw her at a crowded bar shortly after his father died (but before his mother died). He and Sarah hit it off, and she took him back to her parents’... (full context)
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...spanked him very hard once he got ahold of him. In fact, it was his mother who used to hit them rather hard, often smacking them over the head. At some... (full context)
Chapter 10
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...to go visit him. As such, Eggers makes its way to the same hospital his mother stayed in periodically throughout her final months. When he arrives, he’s shocked to see that... (full context)
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...it was quite unexpected, since he’d just recently been diagnosed. Nonetheless, the doctors told Eggers’s mother that his situation was worse than expected and that he could die at any time.... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
...“You mean this is…” Eggers says, and the employee confirms that the box holds his mother’s remains. Not knowing what to do, Eggers leaves and puts the box on the passenger’s... (full context)
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Eggers’s thoughts about his mother lead to a whirlwind of worries, including that Sarah can sense that he heard Sari... (full context)
Self-Consciousness and Meta-Narration Theme Icon
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
Guilt and Poetic License Theme Icon
Deciding that spreading his mother’s ashes in Cape Cod is unrealistic, Eggers realizes that today is also his mother’s birthday.... (full context)
Chapter 11
Coming of Age, Parenthood, and Responsibility Theme Icon
Death, Humor, and the Worst-Case Scenario Theme Icon
...he sits on Black Sands Beach with Toph, he can’t help but think of their mother, remembering how—in her last months—she used to come with him and Toph to the beach... (full context)