A Washington Post "Notable Work of Nonfiction of 2019" In this profoundly honest and examined memoir about returning to Iowa to care for her ailing parents, the star of Orange Is the New Black and bestselling author of Born with Teeth takes us on an unexpected journey of loss, betrayal, and the transcendent nature of a daughter's love for her parents. They say you can't go home again. But when her father is diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer and her mother with atypical Alzheimer's, New York-based actress Kate Mulgrew returns to her hometown in Iowa to spend time with her parents and care for them in the time they have left. The months Kate spends with her parents in Dubuque--by turns turbulent, tragic, and joyful--lead her to reflect on each of their lives and how they shaped her own. Those ruminations are transformed when, in the wake of their deaths, Kate uncovers long-kept secrets that challenge her understanding of the unconventional Irish Catholic household in which she was raised. Breathtaking and powerful, laced with the author's irreverent wit, How to Forget is a considered portrait of a mother and a father, an emotionally powerful memoir that demonstrates how love fuses children and parents, and an honest examination of family, memory, and indelible loss.
In brief, her father had an aggressive form of lung cancer that spread throughout his body and her mother had Alzheimer's disease. I felt like I had to read this book as my dad also died from an aggressive form of lung cancer, and my mom is battling Alzheimer's disease right now.
I read Mulgrew's previous memoir BORN WITH TEETH, and I enjoyed it. She narrated that book as well. (She's an EXCELLENT narrator overall; I loved her performance of Joe Hill's NOS4A2.)
I found her account to be poignant and sad but I was also a bit peeved and I'll tell you why. This is a purely personal thing, and maybe it has a tinge of envy on my part, to be honest. In America, it is much easier to get old, get sick, or get old AND sick, if you have money. The choices available to you when you have money are varied and numerous. When you are poor or even middle class, that is not the case. Not everyone can take leave from their job to nurse a sick parent. Not everyone can hire people to move in with their parents to help take some of the burden off the family. Not everyone can buy an entire house to make caring for a family member easier either. It irked me that Ms. Mulgrew never acknowledged such in this book.
*Gets up on soapbox.* Let me be clear, I am not envious of Kate's money, she's an excellent actress, narrator and writer, she earned it. What I am envious of is the QUALITY OF CARE that Kate and her family were able to provide to their parents. Being a working class/middle class person, I cannot even begin to provide my mother the care she deserves. Quality of medical care and end of life care should not be based on wallet size. *Steps down from soapbox.*
That aside, I'm glad that I listened to this book. I feel less alone-I feel like other people have gone through what I am going through right now, and somehow that helps lessen my pain. I think I'm also able to empathize a bit more with my mom's situation, though I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe it was viewing what she is going through, through a different set of eyes? Whatever the reason, I found myself more patient yesterday with my mom and I think that made it easier on both of us.
I recommend this book, especially to those trying to deal with sick parents, while still trying to work and maintain their own sanity. If only for the reason that HOW TO FORGET makes you feel less alone. Because that is no small thing.
*Thank you to my public library for the free audio download. Libraries RULE!*