A memoirist pays tribute to a beloved parent and offers advice on how to live with loss.
In her new book, Duncan (Mom, Twice a Child, 2015) returns to the subject of her mother, Jeannette Sealey—this time focusing on her long struggle with dementia and her death in 2016 at the age of 95. “I felt I had been saying goodbye for the past 12 years as she slowly slipped away,” the author writes, and she structures the concise chapters of the book’s first section around the overwhelming emotions she experienced. She investigates the guilt that she felt when she placed her mother in a long-term care facility, her “anticipatory grief” as her mother’s condition worsened, and, lastly, her tremendous sense of loss. In the second part, Duncan reveals more about her family by revisiting memories of childhood and discussing other health problems that they faced; her father had lived with cancer and her sister, with multiple sclerosis. In the third section, the author offers gentle but straightforward advice to people in mourning and those trying to comfort them. She expands her observations of her own experiences to write about self-care and communicating with family members, especially children. Throughout all three sections, Duncan keeps her prose short and to the point. Each chapter feels like a contained vignette, giving readers a brief glimpse into the author’s life, her thoughts, and her grieving process. The short poems that she includes (such as “You Were the First”) are often sweet, and her advice in the third section offers very practical insights. However, in the first section, when she focuses on her mother’s last days, she evokes something much more emotional and profound.
A general exploration of grief, elevated by succinct and deeply personal prose.