Review By Don Sloan
Where Memories Meet is at once a heartbreaking account of loss due to Alzheimer’s, and a celebration of life, honoring and remembering a beloved father who later succumbs to the insidious disease.
The style of writing is terse, but not clinically so. This is not a matter-of-fact accounting of a person’s life. It is much more than that. It is a series of remembrances, strung together like Christmas lights, each one shedding just a little more illumination on a remarkable man gone too soon.
Early in the book, it’s Jerry Smith’s eightieth birthday, and a swarm of children and grandchildren gather around him:
“(Aunt Marilyn) holds a small balloon with the words printed on it. ‘What does this say, Jerry?’ she asks. After a brief pause, haltingly, his voice barely above a whisper, and his words shaky and creaky, Dad says, ‘Happy birthday.” It is the last time I will ever hear his voice.”
The author traces her parents’ sixty-year marriage, from its poverty-stricken beginning in 1933, through the birth of a large young family, and the struggles the Smiths endured during the war years. Jerry tells many vivid stories about his growing up, including the pivotal one when his father was sent to prison for a year for breaking and entering.
The war was on and times were tough for everyone.
Jerry recalls the house where more than eleven family members shared two bedrooms. “It was a small house, so the sleeping arrangements were tight. You just needed space enough to have people be able to lie down and sleep.”
He goes on to characterize his own father as an alcoholic, but one with a strong sense of responsibility. “He would call up his boss and give him grief — get fired on Friday and rehired on Monday. Even when he was drunk the whole weekend, he would be at work Monday morning.”
Eventually the stories feature more and more remembrances from his Army years in Korea and bringing up his own family.
The author, his daughter. meanwhile, weaves a touching counter-narrative, detailing Jerry’s gradual decline from dementia to full-fledged Alzheimer’s. It’s a riveting retelling of a person’s life, and the legacy he leaves behind of children who obviously cared deeply for both their parents.
“I know there’s nothing I can do to help Dad out of his misery, out of this nightmare he’s living,” the author says at one point. “I have to make peace with the situation and with myself. It is the only way to go on. And I realize that love is what matters. Love is all that matters.”
I’m giving this memoir five stars and recommend it to anyone whose parents are suffering from Alzheimer’s.
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