John Daniel

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Looking After: A Son's Memoir

Daniel, John

Last Updated: Jan-22-1997
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir


In this reflective memoir, a son in his mid-forties recalls the final years of his mother's life, the mystery of her changed being as she succumbed to Alzheimer's disease, and the long weeks and months he spent as caretaker, confronting the mystery of his own life and the role of memory in it by witnessing at close range the closing down of both life and memory in her. The book is candid about the whole range of feelings--including the most unexpected and unwelcome--associated with the difficult decision to bring an aging and infirm parent into one's household, care for her, reconfigure family life, and consent to the disconcerting inversion of parent-child roles.

Each of its forty short chapters is a lyrical moment. Daniel weaves memories of his mother's life--musing about those parts he can only know second hand--and exquisite portraiture, with ongoing reflection about his purposes in writing; what gifts there may have been in the difficult process of seeing her through a difficult passage into death; and how some of those gifts unfold only in the aftermath. His speculations about the inner life of an Alzheimer's patient add nothing to medical understanding, but model a deeply edifying kind of compassion and will to imagine beyond the failures of mind and body to a silent, inarticulate self that still deserves to be honored.

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