Friday, February 23, 2018

Book Review: 'Where Memories Meet' by Christine M. Grote

Ohio author Christine M. Grote began her career with a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Dayton and worked in product development at Procter and Gamble. Then her life as a homemaker and mother absorbed her and after that success she returned to school at the Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, earning a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in Written Communications. And begins her new career as a writer.

Christine’s eloquent tribute to her father’s passage through Alzheimer’s is one of the more valuable books available on the subject of dealing with loved ones who are victims of this relentless disease. The book is supportive, not only to her own psyche for placing her experience in words but also a primer for people who are close to a family member suffering from this ‘distancing’ ailment. Christine’s writing style is straightforward and unhampered with flights of lyricism: those flights occur because of her honesty of style in sharing.

In her Preface she allows us entry into the origin of this book: ‘By and large, the majority of Dad's story, as he tells it, comes from the audio tapes I recorded when I began in August of 2008, before I knew that Dad's sometimes forgetfulness was due to anything more nefarious than
simple old age. At the end of our interview on October 31, 2008 Dad said, "I don't think there was a thing that was interesting about my life, other than getting married and having all these kids and getting you as far along as you are." Then he added, "It's something to use to get my eulogy." I said, "I'm not giving your eulogy. I can tell you that right now. No way and no how." Dad was right. I did write and give his eulogy on the morning right before this story begins. I made the decision to go backwards in time with the Alzheimer's story for two reasons. First, as I watched his decline, I often found myself trying to gage what Dad was able to do in the recent past. "This time last year he was able to go to Golden Nugget with me," I'd think. And second, I wanted to end with my Dad when he was healthy, and fully himself. In truth, during the journey of writing, Reclaiming my father became a fact for me.’

The synopsis of the book allows a window into the content: "I never thought it would be like this," Jerry said a couple of years into his Alzheimer's diagnosis. The last years of his life, Jerry systematically lost his speech, mobility, independence, memories, and his self to this unrelenting disease. In Where Memories Meet, Jerry narrates the defining moments of his life, while his daughter Christine shares her experience of both the struggle to assist her mother in managing Jerry's escalating needs, and the loss of her father to Alzheimer's. As the eldest son of an alcoholic and mentally ill father, a child during the Great Depression, a newspaper boy during WWII, and an army draftee during the Korean War, Jerry's stories of his childhood and early adulthood breathe life into pages from our history books. Jerry's story of survival reads like the great American rags to riches tale. He survived a rocky childhood with a volatile father. He overcame his humble beginnings to become a successful business owner. Later in life he survived prostate cancer. Throughout his adult life Jerry remained a loyal family man and the devoted father of five children, one of them a severely disabled daughter, Annie. In interweaving his story with her own, Christine moves past memories of the heartbreak of Jerry's last years and, in effect, reclaims her father after Alzheimer's.’

This is an immensely rewarding book to read and it is one that should gain a wide readership among the many people who share Christine’s situation. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, October 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.