Saturday, December 21, 2013

Review: All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia With Refreshments by Alex Witchel

Dear Literary Loves,
I'm spending the last two weeks of 2013 reading several memoirs, one of which is entitled All Gone:  A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia With Refreshments by Alex Witchel.  Since I have never experienced having a parent with severe dementia or Alzheimer's disease I thought it might be interesting to see how a Generation Xer or Baby Boomer handles losing a parent to this type of illness.  First, the author's mom develops dementia as a result of a blocked artery that leads to a series of strokes affecting the memory portion of her brain.  This type of dementia does not progress as quickly as dementia due to Alzheimer's.  And you generally will not see the structural changes in the patient's brain as you would with a person suffering from Alzheimer's disease. 

Ms. Witchel's mom is one heavy feminist and I have to say I was impressed.  The woman taught school and put herself through college in order to obtain a doctorate.  She had four children and was proud to put meals on the table for her family each evening.  She really didn't care if other mothers who devoted their lives to their children looked upon her in a disdainful manner.  She led the life of her dreams and that is what I really admired about her.  Part of what Ms. Witchel associates with the concept of home is her mother's cooking which could get creative at times.  Hence, you will find numerous recipes throughout the book.  It's the realization that her mother is losing her grasp on executive function, or the steps involved in accomplishing a given task, that the family first realizes something is quite wrong with their mother. 

What causes a stroke?  Well, the biggest factor can be smoking and according to the specialist treating Ms. Witchel's mom, that is largely what gave rise to her mother's stroke-related dementia.  The first signs of this dementia occur when Ms. Witchel asks her mother for family recipes and when she goes to make some of those recipes, her mother has left out a portion or the recipe is completedly different from what Ms. Witchel remembers it to be.  There comes a time when the mom forgets how to cook period.  When the author's mom can no longer work as a professor or follow a lecture, she tells the family she has lost her confidence.  She has lost this because she's losing some of the best parts of herself.  This leads to visiting a host of doctors; most are good at dealing with the disease, but there is one specialist neither Alex or her mother would want to see again.  More alarms go off when her mother does not recall her grandson, that a daughter has cancer, and why she was taken to the emergency room upon having fallen at home.  Alex utilizes cooking as a means of remembering her mother as she once was as well as to escape from the bombardment of decisions she must make regarding her mother's care, surgeries, medication, etc.  Alex gets to a point where she is so wrapped up in her mother's care, she forgets to care for herself and at times, her husband.  This is familiar territory for me as this happened to me helping my father through a stem cell transplant. 

I think what saves Ms. Witchel is the realization that part of who someone is to you is your perception of them.  So in the end, Ms. Witchel knows that her mother is physically there with the family, but oftentimes not mentally or emotionally like the mother the family once new.  And that's okay because there are times when Ms. Witchel does see a twinkling light of recognition that her mother, as she once was, is still inside the woman sitting at lunch with her.  In the end what we see is how one woman is balancing career, marriage, and caretaking today in a similar, but different manner than her mother did for her own family members previously.   You definitely see the commonalities between mother and daughter throughout the book in what they value and how they lead their lives.  And to me, that's the best gift any mother could leave with a daughter particularly when they both are admirable, noble, and strong-willed women of different generations.
Until my next review,
Grace (Amy)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller: A Memoir

Dear Literary Loves,
Since my last post I have finished reading the memoir Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller.  Judging just by the title you might be led to think this is a memoir about a person going to detox at a drug rehab center, but essentially, it chronicles her life growing up as the daughter of two parents who are considered diagnostically to be hoarders.  Interestingly, of the two parents, her father appears to have the worst case of the illness.  He collects everything inclusive of  paper and gadgets that need repair.  Her mom initially makes a gallant attempt to keep the home in livable condition; however, later due to illness and surgery, the mom becomes confined to the home and she starts collecting all sorts of various products from various home shopping clubs.  It gets to the point where the whole bedroom is a collection of products from Home Shopping Network.  The house is perfectly described by the author.  There are piles of paper, gadgets, boxes, etc piled to the ceiling.  The refrigerator becomes neglected and there is moldy food.  There are insect carcasses and rats.  I started to wonder halfway through the book why the house wasn't condemned, but the curtains were kept drawn and no one but the UPS or FEDEX delivery folks ever seemed to visit. 
Obviously, the author dealt with a heavy amount of shame over all this.  She would pretend she lived at other homes; she would have friends drop her off at another house as opposed to the in which she actually lived, and she always went to stay at a friend's house as opposed to having anyone over to her own home.   At one point, the author begins taking showers at the local Y because the parents do not have repairs made to the home, including the shower, toilet, and other appliances.  Why?  Because that would lead to someone discovering their secret and potentially turning them in and the whole situation being revealed.  It could quite possibly have meant that her parents would be homeless and that they could have lost custody of their daughter. 
What I found most interesting is that even though the author's parents frustrate the heck out of her because she is constantly still having to go in to their residence and clean, pack, and help move them, she still fundamentally loves her parents.  She wants them to get help, but realizes that you can't make someone get the help they so desperately need.  Today, the author keeps a clean and sparse apartment in New York.  She does experience some remnants of PTSD though as she is obsessively compulsive regarding cleanliness, neatness, and constantly purging that which is not essential from the apartment. 
I was moved by this particular memoir enough to write the author; however, I am sorry to say that she did not send a return email.  I think authors do a disservice to themselves, their experience, and their book when they do not take the time to interact with their readership.  It is one extra element to being an effective marketer I know better than anyone that as a potential debut author, you need all the PR help you can get, in spades.
Until my next read,
Grace (Amy)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving Adventures

Dear Literary Loves,
Wow!  Well, Thanksgiving was definitely not boring!  First, I would like to let all of you know that my most recent vertigo episodes were determined to be due to Meniere's disease which I have had since age eighteen.  The MRI definitively proved that none of the dizziness was due to a mini stroke or anything else.  I will continue the Histamine injections which are proving quite successful in stopping any and all vertigo.  And I've been impressed that I have learned how to give myself a shot and not pass out or faint in the process. 
Since a former teaching colleague of mine has an advanced form of colon cancer, I called my parents and asked if we could reverse visits for the holidays this year so I could visit with my former teaching teammate.  Thus, Bruce and I commenced driving I-85 North from Georgia to North Carolina.  We stopped at California Dreaming for lunch.  I had my usual baked potato soup and Bruce had a Thai chicken wrap.  Our waitress was distressed about the upcoming holidays.  Her boyfriend recently left her afte five years only to marry the next gal he started dating.  I encouraged the girl not to fret.  The best revenge is to live well, be happy, and look good or in other words, pull a Lady Gaga.  Plus, I told her that rash decisions like the one her former beau made usually don't bode well for the person in the long run.  By the time we left the restaurant, our waitress had a whole new perspective on life and was smiling.  Mission accomplished.  Back on the road again Bruce and I were doing just fine until mile marker seventeen in Gastonia where all six lanes of I-85 came to a screeching halt due to a tanker colliding with several cars.  And gas was distributed all over the highway so the hazardous waste team was dispensed to spread sand all over the highway.  We sat on the highway for well over two hours. 
Next, we arrive at my mom and dad's house to discover that my mom had fallen and broken her wrist.  No lie, she got up from a nap to answer the phone, tripped, and all her weight fell on her wrist.  She's due to see an orthopaedic surgeon on Monday.  This may require surgery to reset the bone properly and wearing a cast for quite some time.  This incident led to my brother and dad assisting with the completion of the holiday meal.  Let's put it this way, the fire alarm was set off on multiple occasions, but we managed to have a great holiday meal.  I led the clean up crew following our meal. 
I have to admit that though I have heard about the show Duck Dynasty, I have never actually watched the show.  The brothers that make up the family remind me of my brother and I sent him a Thanksgiving card portraying the Duck Dynasty family having a holiday meal together.  Needless to say, by Thursday evening Bruce, Keegan, dad, and myself were watching back to back episodes of Duck Dynasty which is a riot.  My favorite family member is Si; he lives life unfiltered which is how I like it.  And the best episode in my opinion is when Si teaches Willie's daughter how to drive.
Friday, I went to visit my former teaching partner who is battling stage four colon cancer.  I was glad I did.  She's holding up well against multiple radiation and chemotherapy treatments.  It doesn't surprise me as she is from good stock, but man, cancer is a beast.
I absolutely have to partake of North Carolina barbecue when I am home.  Mom and dad took Bruce and I to Stamey's barbecue in Greensboro, N.C.  It was to die for, let me tell you.  And the hushpuppies alone are worth the wait.  We got there early which was fortunate because by the time we left the line was winding out the door to the parking lot.   Everybody in Greensboro seemed to have the exact same hunger as I did.  Imagine that?!
Bruce and I made our way back to Georgia in record time.  No accidents to hold us up.  There were some insane drivers.  One woman who was driving a Benz had the overhead light on in the car, was doing at least 85 miles per hour, and texting while driving.  And I don't know who was more overjoyed to be home:  Bruce and me or our two cats, Romeo and Chewie.  It was a pleasant holiday with the exception of mom's injury and as always, our lives are never ever boring.   
Until next time,
Grace (Amy)