Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review: 'Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words' by Kate Whouley

✰✰✰✰ Learning that a loved one has dementia is dreaded by many of us. It can be a difficult and confusing time. Author Kate Whouley takes the reader on a heartfelt journey as she comes to terms with her own mother's diagnosis. Upon finding her mother's house littered with crumpled tissues, magazines, newspapers, cigarette wrappers, and smelly cat food cans, Whouley realizes something is wrong. Is her mother drinking again? No, it is perhaps worse, and nothing could have prepared the author for her mother's downward spiral into the disease that is Alzheimer's. 

Whouley shares her struggles to learn as much as she can about the disease and to find a way keep her mother safe. She must find a balance between work and caring for her mother, but in a way she has always cared for her. Growing up as an only child, Whouley shouldered a lot of responsibility when her mother divorced, remarried, and became an alcoholic. However, this is a new challenge that Whouley can't face alone. Along the way she is fortunate to find Suzanne, an elder-care consultant, to guide her through the stages of her mother's illness. Whouley also learns to rely on friends for support as she works her way through feelings of worry, guilt, and doubt. Additionally, Whouley takes solace in her music and incorporates her love of music into the book as it relates to her relationship with her mother.

The author wants to be the good daughter, but she discovers that it is not always easy to make the right decisions for her mother. Anne, her mother, has always been a little bit difficult, and now Anne resists the changes forced upon her. While Whouley struggles with the process of placing her mother in assisted living and finding the resources to pay all the bills, Anne resists losing her freedom little by little. By sharing their story, Whouley reminds readers that even the aged and the infirm are deserving of our love and respect.

The Bottom Line: Author Kate Whouley takes a very candid and open approach in her memoir as she gently reflects on her feelings of doubt, guilt, anger, and acceptance of her mother's illness. Reading the book is like talking to an old friend who understands about the struggles one faces when caring for aged parents. This quick read explores the complex relationship between mothers and daughters. It also highlights the importance of family relationships and finding a strong support system in your friends. Kate's touching reflections are told compassionately and will leave readers with a bittersweet sense of inspiration. Highly recommended for anyone struggling with caring for an aging parent diagnosed with dementia.

This book reminded me of Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa (which I reviewed in 2011). While Dosa's book features anecdotes about several patients, Whouley goes into much more personal detail. This would be a good choice for a nonfiction book discussion club. For those groups considering it, you can find the Reader's Guide (including discussion questions) here.

Details: Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words: Travels with Mom in the Land of Dementia by Kate Whouley. Hardcover published by Beacon Press in 2011. 240 p. ISBN: 978-0-8070-0319-0

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