Book review by Michelle Jacobs
“Working with someone whose mental capabilities are compromised is a constant exercise in patience and acceptance.”
When Susan Marshall gets the phone call from her brother telling her that her mother is missing, she is shocked to find that her mother is descending into dementia just months after her father has succumbed to Alzheimer’s. Marshall finds herself wholly unprepared to face the myriad of decisions that arise as she navigates the health, financial, and legal issues that come with caring for her mother. In addition, she must untangle the frustrations and expectations of her siblings when they lose both parents within ten months of each other. Exploring aging, dying, and caregiving issues, Marshall shares her singular experience as a daughter coming to terms with the past and all its choices, forking paths, and a future without her parents. Her account movingly connects to universal truths and familiar tribulations that offer readers comfort and support. Marshall views her writing and reflection as “a hand extended,” which is a fitting gesture that matches the words and revelatory stories in this memoir. This honest story of caring for her mother is truly an offering to those seeking another’s experience of preparing for and watching a parent slowly diminish from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Marshall’s vital memoir doesn’t shrink from the complexities that come with aging parents. She examines past resentments from childhood and beyond, acknowledges lingering hurts, and questions the limits of sacrificing parts of her life to caregiving. This brave and honest account will truly make others feel less alone on their journey toward understanding the pain and confusion that comes with aging parents. This strange stage of life when the children must begin making decisions for their parents is deeply unsettling and fraught with stress. Marshall’s wisdom comes from hard-fought experiences living through it but, more importantly, feeling through it and reporting from the other side with truth. She is often overwhelmed by emotion and uncertainty. Still, she finds a way forward in hope, allowing her parents to continue to teach her valuable lessons as they go first into the great mysteries of life. They seem to light the way for her, and she, in turn, lights the way for anyone lost in the despair of watching a loved one disappear slowly. For many, this endeavor with aging parents comes with feelings of isolation. However, Marshall desires to encourage and lead the way by inspiring dignity and fairness as children guide their parents at the end of life.
Many books from doctors, therapists, and other experts offer advice and plans for families caring for parents with dementia or Alzheimer’s. These how-to books can help families manage the logistics and treatment options, but they are often clinical and distant as they dispense with the stark details, the cold reality. Marshall’s memoir fills in all the gaps, the empty spaces in the how-to books that can only be occupied by someone living in the reversal of all the roles bestowed by nature and the normal order of things. Marshall captures the staggering burden of decision-making, the bone-weary ache of sadness, and the unexpected fester of resentment. The result is “information and encouragement to anyone who is now or will one day be confronting the declining health and ultimate passing of a parent or beloved family member.”
A 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist
RECOMMENDED by the US Review