August 19th, 2019

The Poignant Beauty of Bound: A Daughter, A Domme, and an End-of-Life Story

In November of 2012, a post from Elizabeth Anne Wood, whom I know in person and am Facebook friends with, appeared in my Facebook feed. It said that she was “putting [her] phone on silent overnight for the first time in seven months.” I remember finding the statement deeply poignant. I had learned from a post two days before that her mother was no longer alive in that physical form.

I had been peripherally aware via Facebook that Elizabeth had been caring for her mother through an intensive and terminal illness. Not long after, I learned that Elizabeth planned to write a book about the experience of being her mother’s caretaker during the health challenges that arose shortly after her mother’s later-in-life sexual exploration and foray into erotic domination. I made an immediate note to read it when it came out.

Doing so illuminated just how peripheral my knowledge of the situation had indeed been as Bound: A Daughter, A Domme, and an End-of-Life Story guided me unflinchingly into the thick of not only the mind-bogglingly complicated (thanks in part to the bureaucratic nature of current health care in the United States) care of the author’s mother Judy during her cancer diagnosis and treatment, but also through a poignant and engrossing narrative that touches topics ranging from Elizabeth’s childhood and her mother’s alcoholism until Elizabeth was eight, to her discussions with her mother about the latter’s discovery of and newfound enthusiasm for sexual dominance in her sixties, to navigating communications with health care providers upon whom the well-being of a beloved family member to some degree depends. Intertwined in the story are the tension that arises sometimes between the author and her sister as they navigate the utterly uncertain terrain of their mother’s health and care, the welcome presence of the male partner with whom Judy has developed an erotic relationship of dominance and submission, and an exhausting number of physical transfers from hospital to rehab centers to skilled nursing facilities and back again.

Bound is a book to which we already know the “ending.” Such is, in fact, included in the subtitle. Like many books in this category, the purpose of reading it then becomes not to find out how the volume resolves but to witness the shape, evolution, and content of the story as it progresses to its known conclusion. This is reflected on occasion in the actual text, in which Elizabeth at times not only foreshadows but actually shares a significant fact or occurrence that will become known later in their experience but that they are not yet aware of in the current scenario. Rather than detract in any way from the suspense of the narrative, these observations enhance the poignancy and, in many cases, highlight the frustration or anguish of aspects of the author’s (and her family’s) journey.

On page 193, I cried for the first time during the reading. It is on this page that a doctor offers Elizabeth the gentle invitation to “just be the daughter,” and I immediately sensed both the profound compassion in the invitation and also the earth-shattering and seemingly impossible surrender its recipient was likely to perceive in it. This was, of course, because Elizabeth had so effectively depicted the supreme propensities for organization, capability, and conscientiousness that had been dominating (no pun intended) her role of being her mother’s primary caretaker and medical advocate. It was easy to recognize, however, the beauty and importance of also “being the daughter,” and I cried alongside the author as she expressed, both out loud to the medical professionals and also in the written narrative, the frustration and uncertainty about what allowing herself to embrace such a role would mean.

This instance of being personally—and sympathetically—moved to tears contrasted with other times I felt moved in a more philosophical way, such as in the anguish and indignation I felt on pages 178-179 as Elizabeth alluded to the devastating racial and economic inequality of America’s health care system. (As a slight digression, it is a sincere hope in me that someday humanity looks back and recognizes a health care system—or what was called that—in any society that is centered on for-profit institutions and a for-profit industry that dictates what care individuals may receive according to how much money that for-profit industry is willing to spend as the inhumane abomination that it is.) Such practical and sociological conditions receive both recognition and illumination in this account of a patient who happens to be white and have high-quality employer-provided health insurance, as well as a primary caretaker and medical advocate who is well-educated and has the relative luxury of getting to take time off to care for her ailing mother full-time.

I experienced this book as a very personal offering from the author. Many, if not all, books are that, perhaps (though memoirs are explicitly so), but what I mean is that the way the author frames her words and what she chooses to convey feel, on one hand, very intimate, offered with both a generosity and a vulnerability inherent in letting us in to view this experience as she lived it. Simultaneously, the volume feels almost like an internal reckoning for the author herself, an exposition delineating her history, family dynamics, experiences, perspectives, and, perhaps most of all, her labor on behalf of all of those things, borne of love and laced with the confusion, obligation, competency, and uncertainty that (perhaps in that order) developed from her childhood and formed the unique psychic structures she exhibits as she rejoices in Judy’s late-in-life sexual development and shepherds her mother through the health-related ordeal that will result in her transition out of that physical form. This nuanced juxtaposition gives a beautiful, personal, poignant tone and energy to a story filled with love, sensitivity, and honesty.

One final note: Rather than at the beginning, the acknowledgements are at the end of this book, which seemed both moving and fitting somehow. To me, they almost seemed like a combination of acknowledgments and epilogue, and I encourage readers to continue through to their conclusion. The story hardly seems complete without them.


“Hospitals, on the other hand, remove our agency immediately, in very unceremonial ways, and then offer it back coercively by way of consent forms that we are compelled to sign in order to get the treatment we know we need.”
-from Bound: A Daughter, A Domme, and an End-of-Life Story

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