A touching debut memoir about a middle-aged woman charged with caring for both her aging father and her two growing children.
Sullivan’s story begins at a time when she was in a particularly tough spot: her mother had died, her father had suffered a stroke, and her husband had filed for divorce. Rather than wallow in grief or self-pity, the author decided to do something that just felt good, so she moved from Indiana to sunny Anna Maria Island, Florida, where her parents had owned a beach cottage for decades. The idea seemed like an idyllic escape and a flawless plan—except for the fact that her father, who needed constant care, wanted to go with her, and her Indiana-based siblings wouldn’t hear of it. But Sullivan decided to go anyway, packing up her kids and her dad and heading to the Gulf of Mexico. The memoir tracks her subsequent adventures in Florida, where she lived through hurricanes, floods, and plenty of long-distance spats with siblings. It also chronicles the slow decline of her father, who later suffered from dementia and cancer. Overall, Sullivan’s book is a tender tribute to a man she regarded as a kind father and beloved grandparent. It also provides a moving picture of the ways that the family made their ailing patriarch’s final years adventurous and fun, such as by taking a family vacation to Ireland. The author deftly examines the drama of complicated family dynamics and provides an accurate picture of what it’s like to be a member of the so-called “sandwich generation,” caring for both children and parents. One of the strongest aspects of Sullivan’s memoir is the way she beautifully describes caring for a parent with dementia: “His senility was like water rushing through my fingers; I couldn’t grab hold of it, understand it, manage it at all….[T]he dementia came and went without an itinerary. We just had to follow along and do the best we could.”
The heartwarming story of a writer’s discovery that the aging process—and life in general—can be tragic and wondrous, all at once.