In a perfectly pitched memoir, novelist Miller (The World Below, 2001, etc.) movingly depicts the bittersweet emotions provoked by the toll Alzheimer’s exacted on her father.
He was an ordained minister and had taught Church History at the University of Chicago and Princeton. Unlike Miller’s volatile, self-absorbed mother, who took greater pleasure in privacy than in maternity, her father was quiet, reserved, and fond of spending time with his four children. He read to them, taught them outdoor skills during their summers in Maine, and had a great gift for listening, giving their conversation his “full, generous, disinterested attention.” After the author became a parent herself, she grew closer to her mother, who died suddenly, at the age of 60, in 1979. Miller resumed her old intimacy with her father, showing him her short stories, which were beginning to be published and spending summers with him in New Hampshire fixing up the house he had bought there. In retrospect, she recognizes that he already had Alzheimer’s. He confessed to being unable to read or write since his wife died, but Miller attributed those symptoms to depression. He wore the same clothes often, but he had always been an abstracted man, caught up in the world of ideas. Six years after her mother died, Miller got a phone call from the police, who had found her father wandering around the countryside in western Massachusetts. He was clearly disoriented, and his children realized he could no longer live alone. Miller eventually became responsible for him, visiting almost daily at the nursing home and monitoring his care. She affectingly details his long decline as well as what is known about Alzheimer’s. Writing this memoir, she finds, brings her consolation; her father, she realizes, had never needed it because of his faith: “for him his life and death already made sense.”
A loving and eloquent tribute from a talented daughter.