I was curious about this book after reading excerpts and enjoying Alex Witchel’s pieces in the New York Times. She’s an excellent reporter and keen observer of people. In “All Gone,” she reports on and observes – with both love and anguish – her own mother, who suffers from dementia.
Though Witchel has siblings, she was the daughter who lived nearby, didn’t have young children, knew how to find the best doctors, was utterly devoted to her mother and always had been. But as she discovered, being a caregiver isn’t for the weak-willed. It can consume you if you let it.
Witchel paints a fully realized portrait of her mother – a woman who had a career even when it wasn’t fashionable, a woman who valued intelligence above all else, a woman who, like most Jewish mothers, wanted her daughter to marry well and have kids.
We follow her mother’s decline – from the memory lapses to the mystifying behavior – as well as Witchel’s own journey into adulthood, excelling in school, blossoming as a writer, marrying the Times‘ Frank Rich (now with New York magazine), becoming a stepmother to his sons.
I related to Witchel’s story in so many ways as I’m sure anybody with a parent suffering from cognitive impairment will. My 95-year-old mother is still pretty sharp – i.e. if she catches you saying “Between you and I,” she’s quick to correct. She walks on the treadmill and goes to her book group and has the best vocabulary in the entire world, but she has memory lapses, becomes disoriented when trying to process information, and asks the same question a million times. Fortunately, she has a big help in Sandy James, caregiver extraordinaire, who lives with her and makes sure she’s healthy and socially active.
I love that Witchel included recipes in her book. They’re the connection she still has with her mother and they give what could have been a downer of a story some levity. Her touchstone is her mother’s meatloaf. Mine is Mom’s stuffed cabbage.
As a caregiver, I appreciate it when others share their stories, warts and all. We all make mistakes in our efforts to “fix” our loved ones, but it’s reading about the lessons learned that’s most satisfying. “You’d Better Not Die or I’ll Kill You” is full of my lessons learned. I’m eager to share them when it goes on sale in a few weeks.
Next up on my Kindle: “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” the new novel by Maria Semple. It’s hilarious and I’m loving it so far.