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All Gone: a Memoir of My Mother’s Dementia, with Refreshments ~Alex Witchel

Monday, October 29th, 2012

ALL GONE  was a great read and a good read about a tough and difficult change taking place in the author’s life.  Alex Witchel is a professional writer for the New York Times and started her career writing magazine interviews of celebrities.  Witchel always added a bit of interest to her interviews by sharing their favorite recipes and foods.  She shares her own deeper family history through a series of yummy recipes included at the end of each chapter.

Witchel’s mother was different from other mother’s in the 1950s.  She received her doctorate in psychology and taught in various colleges in New Jersey.  She had had polio as a child and was very driven to succeed and not let this disease compromise her living fully.  Her mother smoked and put her husband first and was not a terrific cook, and yet she produced a number of traditional Jewish recipes with her own grace and gift for connection.  She was a woman heavily criticized by her own mother who was a marvelous cook and disliked by her mother-in-law who was a fancy cook.  Witchel benefitted from all the cooks in her family and good traditional Jewish foods helped her to bond with her step sons.  The family was bonded by the love shared through these traditions and meals.

ALL GONE  is about the caregiving that boomer children are having to undertake as their parents are living longer and some are experiencing a slow dying process.  The caregivers are experiencing the pressure of maintaining their careers and family at the same time as they are doing all the care and paperwork of a person leaving this earthly realm.  Witchel was able to hire a daytime, fulltime care giver for her mother who was suffering with the onset of dementia. Her mother was depressed and confused and greatly missed her students and work experiences.  She refused to go to adult daycare or participate in senior activities as she grieved the loss of her former self.

The publisher’s blurb that came with the book said – “that she uses that voice – consistently frank, bittersweet and often funny – to provide an intimate look at increasingly familiar form of heartbreak – caring and grieving for an ailing parent.”

Only barely touched upon in All Gone, is the realization that the Medicare and pension programs that their parents received will not be there for their departure.  One is confronted with that as they are packing up the house and moving parents to apartments and assisted living centers, it is almost a daily reminder was one has to leave work for emergencies and doctor’s appointments  and loose precious income in their own  nest eggs.   Witchel has a good career and employed supportive spouse so she is able to only briefly share concerns in this area and she was able to pay for the needed caregivers and support workers.

What is important is Witchel’s sharing of the toll the grieving process takes upon a person when it is a drawn out dying process and not a sudden intrusion or change.   It is an amazing story of how one understands when the mind is gone and the body is still performing – it is only the tradition foods which keep the connection and the love bonded.

The book was a comfort to me as my mother was teaching and working when I grew up too, she was not a terrific cook, and though her mind was sharp and vigorous to the very end (her body gave up first) it is also her recipe box that I keep and use often.  I have translated her traditional recipes into gluten free and organic and they bring comfort and connection to our table.

What is it about the death of a mother that changes us and sometimes only food will comfort us?

I received an advance copy of this book from Riverhead Books and Irwin O’Donnell in order to review this book.  I appreciated reading it and the delightful wisps of humor found there within a tough change in the author’s life.

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Related Reading:
The Long Goodbye
So Far Away
The Somebody Who
When Women Were Birds
The Love Ceiling