I’ve read a plethora of books on the subject of caregiving and aging in the first three years of my life with Mama. Here is my list in no particular order. Well, I guess they are in the order I read them. Favorites are ★.
An Uncertain Inheritance: Writers on Caring for Family ▪ Nell Casey, Ed
★ Death in Slow Motion: My Mother’s Descent into Alzheimer’s ▪ Eleanor Clooney
★ Mother Daughter Me ▪ Katie Hafner
When I Married My Mother ▪ Jo Maeder
★ Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders ▪ Mary Pipher
★ All Gone: A Memoir of my Mother’s Dementia, with Refreshments ▪ Alex Witchel
★ Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death ▪ Katy Butler
The Fifth Season: A Daughter-in-law’s Memoir of Caregiving ▪ Lisa Ohlen Harris
Passages in Caregiving ▪ Gail Sheehy
Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying ▪ Maggie Callanan & Patricia Kelley
Bettyville ▪ George Hodgman
Not Becoming My Mother ▪ Ruth Reichl
★ A Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents — and Ourselves ▪ Jane Gross
★ Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End ▪ Atul Gawande
The Protest, by Dianne Kozdrey Bunnell.
Dianne Kozdrey Bunnell is my writing partner and good friend. But that is not the reason I am telling you to read her book, released today for Kindle on Amazon (also available in hardback on Amazon). The Protest is a damn good read. And it’s available today only (March 19) for the ridiculously low price of $2.99. It is worth every penny of that price, or the regular price of $4.99 after today.
Here is the review I wrote for Amazon:
This fictional memoir is a riveting tale superbly told about the lengths to which a mother’s love can go, as Janey strives to save her daughters from their father. I was alternately laughing and horrified as I read into the night, unable to put it down. It is a terrifyingly credible novel of what can happen when religion is used for personal power, and the manipulation of the lives of innocent children hangs in the balance. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves beautiful language, compelling characters, and a gripping read.
“Like millions of Americans caring for aging parents, Katy Butler assumed that her beloved mother and father would meet death on their own terms, free from medical overdoing. She was wrong. After doctors refused to disable the pacemaker that helped her 84-year-old father’s heart to outlive his brain [and probably should not have been inserted in the first place, following a stroke] she set out to understand why medicine, which saved his life as a young man, did little at the end but prolong his worst years. Her quest had barely begun when her mother rebelled against her doctors, refused open-heart surgery, and insisted on meeting death the old fashioned way: head-on.”
This book is a big eye-opener about how Medicare, the pharmaceutical industry, doctors and hospitals work when it comes to caring for the elderly. It is a story about how the medical profession refuses to consider the toll on the family or their wishes. It is a tale about the critical importance of how we as a nation fail our elderly and must work our way back to the sacred way of death that our ancestors knew before we got so smart. It is a book that should be read by everyone who has or will have an elderly partner or parent.
The Protest, Dianne Kozdrey Bunnell
This novel is based on the real life story of my friend and sister writer, a member of my writing group. Jane, the novel’s protagonist, loses her young adolescent twin daughters to brainwashing by their charismatic and twisted father, the Rev. Logan Churlick, and his fanatical religion. After battling through the courts to save them, Jane makes a Solomon decision that expresses mother-love beyond the bounds most of us will ever know. It’s been a long time since I read a book I couldn’t put down.
Mother Daughter Me: a memoir, Katie Hafner
An extraordinarily written story of three generations of women experimentally living together. Katie, a young widow with a teenage daughter, brings her mother to live with them. The many unresolved emotional crises of Katie’s childhood and the turbulent relationship with her mother then and now are a recipe for disaster. Some would say the experiment failed, as they could not continue to live under the same roof—as they did not in Katie’s childhood. But ultimately it becomes a courageous healing journey for all three women; and it is a riveting read.
At the end of book, Katie Hafner quotes Judith Wallerstein (The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce): “So lasting are the effects of divorce, so disruptive to the bond between parent and child, that some of these children find that when the roles are reversed and it is their parents who now need them, they want to pay them back in kind. What they didn’t get, they don’t want to give.” But, Katie says, “Even as I read this, I don’t budge from what has become a personal mantra: Our parents do the best they can with what they have to work with, and we owe them the same.”
Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman
I haven’t seen the NetFlix series yet, but I understand it’s dramaed up. Piper Kerman’s memoir about her year spent in a federal women’s prison for a 10-year-old crime is a beautifully told story of women looking out for one another with compassion, humor, creativity, and respect; helping each other do their time and survive. And they do it under the auspices of a system designed to do just the opposite. Kerman grows incredible friendships with women she would not have dreamed of associating with on the outside. They become family to her. I will watch the fictionalized version, but I’m glad I know the real story.
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, Anna Quindlen
I tried reading this some time ago, but the three unread novels on the chair called to me louder and it went back to the library unread. But I just finished the audio version, read by the author, and I loved it! Especially the first half or so (I got a little bogged down toward the end). It’s about a woman’s life, from childhood memories to manic motherhood to middle age, using the events of her life to illuminate ours. It’s funny and poignant and thought-provoking. I found myself in it, as I leave so much of life behind, and look ahead. And it’s short: you can listen to it driving around town.
The author: “It’s odd when I think of the arc of my life, from child to young woman to aging adult. First I was who I was. Then I didn’t know who I was. Then I invented someone, and became her. Then I began to like what I’d invented. And finally I was what I was again. It turned out I wasn’t alone in that particular progression.”
The Dirty Life, Kristin Kimball
“The central question in the kitchen would have to change from ‘What do I want?’ to ‘What is available?'” This line might be the one that leads me to my next big adventure. It certainly has ideas tumbling through me like a volcanic eruption.
The memoir tells the tale of a city girl turned farmer. And it is the story of the beginnings of “the most interesting farm in the country”; one that grows everything needed to feed a community. It isn’t just about farming or eating or local, organic food for me though; it is about turning a dream—and a heck of lot of hard work—into a life. It is about reinventing yourself, and finding sheer joy and fulfillment in it.
When I Married My Mother, Jo Maeder
A memoir of a not-quite-50-year-old woman who moves from New York City to “Greensbor(ing),” NC, moving her hoarder mother from Richmond to live with her near her born-again older brother and his new southern-sweetness wife. She and her mother never had a relationship, Jo having abandoned Mama Jo as a child when she moved with her brother and father to Florida. Everything about her course adjustment stretched her far beyond her comfort zone.
What makes this book different from the many memoirs I have read on daughters caring for mothers is the author’s movement from non-relationship, to her mother becoming the love of her life. She discovered someone she never knew—a strong, funny, smart woman—because she opened herself to discovery. Other accounts of caring for aging parents have focused on how hard it is, how self-sacrificing, the relief when it’s over. They look at how society is failing the elderly, the challenges of incarceration in a care facility, and how frightening it is to grow old with nothing to look forward to. Those books have made me feel good about the sacrifice I am making; I am in good company. This one made me squirm.
The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult
My favorite author. I can’t put her books down once I start. Well, I wish I didn’t have to. “When does a moral choice become a moral imperative? And where does one draw the line between punishment and justice, forgiveness and mercy?” The horror story of my parents’ generation, arguably of any generation, weaves into the current day and braids with an ancient folk tale.
The True Secret of Writing, Natalie Goldberg
“Sit. Walk. Write. These are the barest bones of Natalie Goldberg’s writing and life practice. The True Secret is for everyone, like eating and sleeping. It allows you to discover something real about your life, to mine the rich awareness in your mind, and to ground and empower yourself.” In this book, I found friends: Joanna in the chapter about Natalie’s dying student; Dori as Natalie described painting a chair, the kind of chair you want to sit in for an entire winter of mornings watching snow fall, a chair like the one Dori gave to me. This book is about the Zen of life and of writing. Yes, writing is scary. Writing says we care, we have thoughts, we exist. And we all must do it. Pick up your pen and face yourself. Now, “Shut up and write.”
An author video with Natalie Goldberg authors.simonandschuster.com/Natalie-Goldberg/40374846.
The Alchemy of Loss: A Young Widow’s Transformation, Abigail Carter
A well-written story by a first-time author and mother of two young children of her journey of loss and rebirth following her husband’s death on September 11, 2001. She describes the years following that horrific day as “powerfully transformative.” She likens them to alchemy: “from them she emerged a new person—wiser, more independent, more sure of herself.” Another unwhitewashed story of how hard life can be, and that one can emerge changed, but whole again.
Death in Slow Motion: My Mother’s Descent into Alzheimers, Eleanor Cooney
An excellent memoir that I recommend to my friends who have a parent or loved one suffering from severe dementia. It is raw and funny and heartbreaking and honest and I couldn’t put it down. And it made me know, again, how lucky my family is.