A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments
By Alex Witchel
(Riverhead Hardcover, Hardcover, 9781594487910, 224pp.)
Publication Date: September 27, 2012
Categories: Personal Memoirs
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A daughter’s longing love letter to a mother who has slipped beyond reach.
Just past seventy, Alex Witchel’s smart, adoring, ultracapable mother began to exhibit undeniable signs of dementia. Her smart, adoring, ultracapable daughter reacted as she’d been raised: If something was broken, they would fix it. But as medical reality undid that hope, and her mother continued the torturous process of disappearing in plain sight, Witchel retreated to the kitchen, trying to reclaim her mother at the stove by cooking the comforting foods of her childhood: “Is there any contract tighter than a family recipe?”
Reproducing the perfect meat loaf was no panacea, but it helped Witchel come to terms with her predicament, the growing phenomenon of “ambiguous loss ”— loss of a beloved one who lives on. Gradually she developed a deeper appreciation for all the ways the parent she was losing lived on in her, starting with the daily commandment “Tell me everything that happened today” that started a future reporter and writer on her way. And she was inspired to turn her experience into this frank, bittersweet, and surprisingly funny account that offers true balm for an increasingly familiar form of heartbreak.
Alex Witchel is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and originated the popular Feed Me” column for the Dining section. The author of three previous books, she has also written for New York, Vogue, Elle, and Ladies’ Home Journal, among other publications. She lives in New York with her husband, Frank Rich.
“Haunting, unflinching and at times unexpectedly hilarious… Witchel offers up a fiercely honest account of how her adored mother slowly began 'disappearing in plain sight'… A book that may make you cry (I did), but through some mysterious alchemy it will also leave you with many positive feelings. It will make you smile and even laugh out loud… A powerful affirmation of family bonds, of the soul-sustaining love—and special dishes shared in beloved company—that persist from generation to generation.” –The New York Times Book Review
"In this warm memoir, Witchel recounts her mother’s mental decline and the solace she derived from preparing family recipes. I related to the author’s desire to hold fast to her mother. My mom embodies so much: family, traditions, home. I worry about how I’ll cope when she passes away someday. This book was a comfort, reminding me that nothing can ever rob me of her love." –Real Simple
"[Witchel's] recipes are simple family classics. With their invocations of old-time staples like Del Monte tomato sauce and Lawry’s seasoned salt, they’re humble reminders of the many small acts of care that hold a family together. On the page, they stand as incantations." –The Daily Beast
“Witchel writes beautifully from the heart, but with a journalist's clarity… [She] reminds readers that family relationships are precious and time is fleeting.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“As Ms. Witchel wisecracks, ‘In our house, it was always the old days.’ All Gone… pay[s] homage to those days. As do the clever comebacks Ms. Witchel scatters throughout… Still, she gives the best lines to her mother, [who,] even as she free falls… delivers good dialogue.” –Rachel Shteir, The New York Times
“Bittersweet, with levity.” –Good Housekeeping
"A short, lovely memoir, moving in its description of grief and loss, the painfully slow loss, of a beloved parent, never self-indulgent and with enough bright spots to balance the blackness… And there is a moment at the end… that brought me to a full-on weep." –Michael Ruhlman
“A moving tribute… that reminds those whose child–parent relationship has flipped that they are not alone.” –SheKnows.com
“Funny and poignant… a complex mother-daughter love story.” –Maclean’s
“A testament to love, tenacity and the power of home cooking” –MORE Magazine
"In this recipie-dotted memoir, Alex Witchel finds solace among the saucepans as her beloved mother slips away... [Includes] witty culinary asides and nuggets of maternal wisdom." –Whole Living
"Warm and always humane, Witchel's narrative is a poignant, candid reminder of the new normal that now defines so many adult child-aging parent relationships." –Kirkus
“I cannot get over how good Alex Witchel’s writing is. I wish I could park my desk next to hers and learn how to write sentences even half as efficient and muscular and poignant. No one is smarter, funnier, or more graceful. And there’s no one whose kitchen I’d rather be invited into.” –Gabrielle Hamilton, author of Blood, Bones and Butter
“Alex Witchel takes us on an extraordinary journey of the mind and heart as a vibrant parent fades into dementia. She shows us that despite profound loss, we can nourish ourselves with memories that sustain love and give comfort. This book of sharp honesty and deep insight illuminates a time in life when so many of us seek understanding.” –Jerome Groopman, author of How Doctors Think and The Anatomy of Hope
"Alex Witchel is a heroic and funny war correspondent who explains, once and for all, why it's called the nuclear family." –Fran Lebowitz
“This is a story of love and loss told as only Alex Witchel can tell it—with the extraordinary warmth and humor she brings to all of her work. I loved reading it!” –Ina Garten