A debut memoir chronicles a daughter navigating the final five months of her mother’s life.
From childhood, Bragin assumed it was her responsibility to take care of her mother, Hannah Epstein. She explains poignantly: “I was nine when Daddy died and I took on the job of making sure my mother would stay alive.” Her lifelong, ultimate fear—“Something about not being able to find myself in my mother’s eyes. Who would I be when she was no longer here?”—inspires her intense vigilance throughout the narrative. In late September 2002, returning from a month’s respite in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after having seen the 92-year-old Hannah through two bouts of pneumonia, Bragin arrived at the Transitional Care Unit of The Jewish Home in Los Angeles. She was there to move Hannah back to the main part of the assisted living facility. Before she could say hello, a nurse quietly pulled her aside: Her mother had been taken off the antidepressants that had “been keeping her on an even keel” and her sodium level was too low. The medical professionals wished to send her to the Geriatric Psych Ward at UCLA. Bragin refused. Hannah adamantly wanted to go back to the place that had been her home for the past four years. Two days later, there was no choice. Hannah was suffering from a urinary tract infection that left her physically and psychologically compromised. This marked the beginning of a meticulously documented final mother-daughter journey during which each learned to let go. Bragin’s eye for reportorial detail and ear for linguistic music bring readers along with her as she fiercely battled doctors over evaluations of dementia and prescriptions that were too strong for Hannah’s frail body. “When Mom is well, she is very much ‘in her mind,’ ” the author declares. “There’s too much normality still there for her to be reduced…to a diagnosis that is literally dehumanizing.” The eloquent narrative is personal and sometimes uncomfortably intimate. But Bragin’s scrupulous attention to the small day-to-day elements of life in The Jewish Home is illuminating and cautionary.
An engaging, passionate, and informative account of a complicated mother-daughter relationship.