British journalist and novelist Grant (Sexing the Millennium, 1994) fashions a stylish, poignant memoir of her mother’s losing battle with an insidious form of dementia.
Grant divides her text into 27 unnumbered sections, beginning with a nightmarish shopping excursion with her mother Rose to buy a dress for a family wedding in 1996, and ending with a lyrical paean to memory (“the Wandering Jew of our physical selves”). A brief Afterword contains an update on her mother’s continuing decline. Rose suffers from MID (Multi-Infarct Dementia), a disease characterized by continual minor strokes that, in her case, have destroyed her short-term memory. Grant chronicles the struggles that she and her sister go through to care for their mother, first in her own apartment and then, finally, in a custodial home. Grant, a wonderful writer, has assembled many touching episodes, many remarkable observations. She remembers being embarrassed and disgusted by her father (who sold supplies to hairdressers); she regrets not paying attention in her youth to the family stories of her elders; she recalls with bemusement her father’s sudden confession of an encounter with a prostitute—and her mother’s placid acceptance (he had given her earrings to soften the news, and jewelry “easily outweighed a sexual infidelity”); she realizes the wisdom of a friend’s comment that “Your mother has become your daughter.” Even in the darkness of her disease, Rose continues to surprise Grant: she follows the O.J. Simpson trial, grieves at the death of Princess Di, and retains her tasteful fashion sense. Most affecting are Grant’s accounts of her wrenching decision to institutionalize her mother. When they finally leave her in a facility, she wonders: “What crime have we perpetrated, bringing her to this terrible place?” Less effective are summaries of discussions about dementia with an administrator of the facility.
A graceful and loving meditation on the inevitability of decline, on the wonder of memory. (17 b&w photos)