A daughter’s memoir of sacrifice and discovery as her ailing mother’s caretaker is “an inspiring story of love, loss and the ravages of aging” (Kirkus).
Like all mothers, mine had a set of maxims that she thought were important to impart to me: if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all (unless it’s irresistibly funny); it’s as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is with a poor man (a nice idea in theory); if you want to commit suicide, wait until tomorrow (advice which has, it turns out, saved my life).
Like many daughters of elderly parents, Pat MacEnulty finds herself in a maze of healthcare negotiations and surprising discoveries when her mother can no longer care for herself. Pat’s mother, who stood by her through her darkest years, was a small-town icon as a composer, pianist, organist, and musical director. She is suddenly unable to be the accomplished, independent person she once was. Now Pat has two goals: to help her daughter avoid the mistakes that derailed her own life, and to see her mother’s masterpiece, “An American Requiem,” find a new life and a new audience in her mother’s lifetime. Along the way, Pat rediscovers her own strength, humor, and rebelliousness at the most unlikely moments.
In a straightforward, take-off-the-rose-colored-glasses fashion, novelist MacEnulty (From May to September) tells a sad though familiar story of a family ruptured by illness and old age. MacEnulty grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., in a fatherless household; she descended into drug addiction in her teens, and finally turned herself around through education and a teaching and writing career. Her mother, a retired pianist and composer in Edenton, N.C., whose early ambitions were largely thwarted by her overbearing husband, grew needy and ill. Little by little illness began to sap the family s strength: MacEnulty developed a debilitating case of hepatitis C (contracted from her drug use years earlier), and she was later diagnosed with abdominal cancer, while MacEnulty s mother became crippled and no longer able to care for herself. A move into assisted living proved expensive and unsatisfying, however necessary, as her mother was constantly ending up in the hospital; moreover, she was unpleasant to be around: "Now she is no longer the grande dame," writes MacEnulty with hard resignation, "she is just another addled old person with a walker." MacEnulty s memoir of feeling torn by her mother s illness, her faltering relationship with her spouse, chronic money worries, and anxieties for her teenage daughter all resonate with Job-like finality, though she does bring to her prose a little levity to sweeten the numbing detail.