A memoir of Alzheimer’s during its final stages and of a family’s attempt to provide support for a spirited grandmother whose changed outlook allowed a vital relationship to move from estrangement to reconciliation.
Leleux (The Memoirs of a Beautiful Boy, 2008) presents a slim, dignified portrait of his grandmother JoAnn—a wisecracking yet elegant Southerner with a penchant for entertaining—and his grandfather Alfred, her lifelong advocate, focusing on the brief window after the onset of her dementia. Rather than lingering over potentially negative details that often accompany the illness, such as extreme patient behaviors or caregiver burnout, the author explores the surprisingly merciful gifts that come with losing one’s memory: the ability to forgive and forget, to delight in the everyday and to believe that “anything is possible." Leleux was not, however, “striving for optimism” so much as a healthier perspective on a condition often regarded with foreboding. As the author, his mother and his grandfather accompanied JoAnn on her flights of fancy, the rift between Leleux’s mother and her parents began to heal, and the author discovered the power of self-reflection. Episodic recollections from childhood and a lengthy digression on Leleux’s mother-in-law round out this portrait of living amid decline. The author effectively transitions between JoAnn’s earlier years and moments after her diagnosis. She emerges not only as a beloved figure, but as a larger-than-life character who was eager for the spotlight, funny, gracious, occasionally biting in her assessment of others and altogether inspired.
Leleux sweeps readers from New York to Texas to rural Tennessee on a family pilgrimage—an understated work that highlights the emotional rewards of caring for a loved one.