Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Memoir Review: In My Heart

I chose to read In My Heart by Ursula Hanks because this memoir seemed to mirror some of what my husband and I are going through right now. Hanks writes about taking care of her aging parents, as her mother deteriorates quickly with Alzheimer’s to the point that her 88-year old father can no longer take care of her by himself. They live with Hanks and her husband for awhile until her mother needs to go into a care home.

This story parallels our own to some degree. My husband’s parents are also in their 80’s, and we’ve watched his mom deteriorate with Parkinson’s disease. My father-in-law was taking care of her by himself in their home (we live 2000 miles away) until last year, when she fell and broke her hip and could no longer stand. She’s in a nursing home now.

Hanks perfectly describes the tumultuous feelings associated with all of these changes. She writes about her own dismay at her mother’s downward spiral, her desire to want to take care of her parents, and the difficulty of becoming a caregiver to the people who used to take care of you. She also describes her father’s deep love for her mother and desire to take care of her, as well as his frustration and sadness as she gets worse.

Here, she describes how her mother’s worsening snuck up on them:

Maybe because our family had visited Mom and Dad so frequently, we didn’t really notice the decline in Mom’s ability to do the things she had always done so effortlessly. When she talked about losing something and not being able to remember things, we chalked it up to normal old age symptoms and reassured her that even younger people forget things also. To restore her confidence, I even told Mom the joke that “you don’t have Alzheimer’s until you forget what you forgot.” Later my heart sank when I realized how lightly I had spoken about such a grave subject. I wondered why I had not paid more attention to the signs, especially since I knew that getting older is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, with one in ten individuals over sixty-five and nearly half over eighty-five affected. Reading about statistics and actually experiencing the reality were somehow a million miles apart.

In between recounting recent events with her parents moving in, Hanks also tells about her family’s history: her parents’ youth in Germany before and during World War II, her own childhood first in Germany and then in the U.S., and her first difficult marriage and experiences parenting her children. Her stories are engaging and help to make her family seem like old friends to readers.

The writing isn’t as polished as other memoirs I’ve read, but her story is powerful and honest, told with warmth and love. I recommend this book to anyone struggling with issues of aging parents.

Outskirts Press, 101 pages

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your discussing this book. I have not been through this personally but know friends who have with their parents and I can imagine how painful that can be.