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Caring for Mother: A Daughter's Long Goodbye Paperback – June 4, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 175 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press; 1 edition (June 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0664231527
  • ISBN-13: 978-0664231521
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #446,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Death is never timely: it comes either too soon or too late. In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion recounts the aftermath of her husband's sudden death at the dinner table. At the other edge of the spectrum, Owens describes seven years preceding her mother's relentless descent into dementia, "God's own breath slowly leaking out through the fissures in her brain." Afflicted first with Parkinson's, then small strokes and Alzheimer's disease, Mrs. Stem eventually required round-the-clock care. Owens moved next door and spent hours every day with her: "All I could do was squat beside the avalanche, listening for any sign of life; sometimes I could hear a faint but familiar echo of her voice or gesture from under the heap." Through essays as incisive and insightful as Didion's, this account succeeds on multiple levels: medical detective story, personal memoir, flawless description, philosophical and spiritual exploration (where is the self when the brain no longer functions normally?). Owens offers not self-help but hope as she bears witness to the grief and glory of life's ending: "If love... weren't the center from which life flows, if it didn't, as Dante says, move the stars, how could we bear such weight?" (June)
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From Booklist

With the 85-and-older population the fastest-growing segment of the elderly, and with millions of baby boomers sprinting toward their ranks, the likelihood of encountering Alzheimer's oneself or in a family member should increase exponentially in coming decades. Counting herself among this population-in-waiting, Owens offers this thought-provoking memoir of her family's nearly seven-year-long ordeal with her mother's illness. Portraying additional struggles with her own and her father's age-related medical issues, she yet drives home the relentlessness of Alzheimer's demands on its sufferer's circle of support. No matter a spouse's heart condition, or a daughter's challenged vision—mother's wandering off at any moment must take precedence. Owens and her father tended her mother a year and a half before the illness demanded nursing-home care. Though the nursing home offered release from 24/7 duty and relieved certain fears and responsibilities, her mother's condition still obliged considerable time commitment from the rest of the family. Rather than belaboring the losses it entailed, Owens makes her experience instructive and conducive to reflection by readers facing similar challenges. Chavez, Donna

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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I laughed and cried when I read this book.
Eugene M. Keane
Virginia Stem Owens's latest book is a tremendously valuable account of the author's intricate relationship with her elderly mother, ill with dementia.
Shirley Nelson
I could quote half this book, it's so good.
John Thorndike

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Shirley Nelson on July 24, 2007
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Virginia Stem Owens's latest book is a tremendously valuable account of the author's intricate relationship with her elderly mother, ill with dementia. While it reads as an absorbing narrative--sometimes sad, sometimes funny, always keenly honest--it also offers a carefully observed and researched medical history, bound to be instructive to both older and younger readers.

When her mother's physical frailty became problematic and Owens left her Kansas home to stay nearby her parents in Texas, she had no idea the sojourn would span seven years. In that time, her mother's diagnosis moved from Parkinson's disease to Alzheimer's, and Owens watched what she calls the "slow dismantling" of the intelligent and capable person she had known all her life.

What distinguishes this book from other records of a similar kind is Owens's unfailing sense of irony. She takes no prisoners. No one, including herself or her mother, is spared her perceptive eye and subtle wit. Doctors and medical staff particularly, are depicted with total frankness--too busy, too hasty, forgetful, insensitive--including the psychiatrist who tells the patient chirpingly to "get out more" and "find a purpose in life."

Yet the book is fair and full of compassion and the tone throughout is exactly right, an unusual accomplishment when the topic itself runs the gamut of emotions and human idiosyncracies. This is a tough record to read, but hardly depressing, and a wise-spirited author helps you through.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Mary's daughter on October 17, 2007
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This book is very true to life. Since I am in the eighth year of caring for my 98-year-old mom with Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, I can definitely relate to many of the incidents written here. There are so many similarities to our past and present. I think it is a good book, especially for someone who is just beginning to care for their loved one. It helps with some of the unknowns "down the road."
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By John Thorndike on March 16, 2009
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Though the title did not sound promising, I try to read every personal account of Alzheimer's I come across, so I bought this book and sat down with it one night in my reading chair--and didn't get up for three hours. The writing was fluid, the characters strong, the dilemmas painful and eternal. "Caring for Mother" turned out to be both subtle and incisive, an essential book on dementia and patient care, perfectly contained in 163 pages.

"This is not a cheerful book," Virginia Owens explains in her Opening Note, "but it is truthful."

It's truthful, and it's vivid. The book has a story to tell, as it tracks the author's mother through an ever-increasing dementia toward what we know from the start will be a disaster. In the early chapters Virginia Owens helps look after her mother at home. Her mother has little faith in medicine: "She goes to the doctor the way I went to church as a teenager, bitter and under duress. She takes her pills like an apostate receiving communion, with little hope in their efficacy. A dark night for both soul and body."

It's worse later, in the nursing home--that place, Owens says, "the name of which strikes terror into every person's heart." When she goes to visit her mother, most of the other residents ignore her. She doesn't blame them, "They had every right to their withdrawal. Only a handful of residents have visitors who come on even a weekly basis. Most are visited occasionally, some rarely or never. People who've been abandoned develop a thick coat of defensive frost."

Owens' indictment of nursing homes is calm, steady, devastating. It's as abiding as the anger she sees in the residents: "You can feel it as soon as you come in the door. Cold Rage.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Packer on September 11, 2009
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This is the first book I've read of Virginia Stem Owens and it's an engaging memoir. Her mother's illnesses propel the book in incremental fashion and points. If you are caring for an elderly parent or person (which I am) it is informative.

If you are looking for sentimental memoir look elsewhere. I picked this book for that reason and to try to help me through the trials of my own life and it turned out to be the perfect choice. The trials Owens and her mother go through are heart wrenching and frustrating but she keeps the facts straight and the sentimentality low. She forges through all the trials with very little emotion. But the last chapter reels it all in and encircles you with hope and strength. It's a good, informative, strength building read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Eugene M. Keane on November 16, 2008
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I have been taking care of my mother, who has Alzheimer's Disease, for a few years. More recently (6 mos ago) she has moved into my home. I laughed and cried when I read this book. I totally can related to each and every event. And yet, I feel privileged to be able to provide the care my mother needs at this time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By B. L. Tilton on April 19, 2010
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This book arrived at a time when I really needed the uplift. It is not a caregiver guide. That has been done very well by other authors, in such as "The 36-Hour Day". This authors work touches the heart of a daughter who becomes a caregiver. . After a year or so into caregiving, I discovered there are those who are known as "the dutiful daughter". That is my tag. We owe it to each other to pass along any support or information that helps us through this process of grieving our living parent while at the same time assuming a role as their caregiver. No matter our actual level of hands-on caregiving, we assume an awesome responsibility, and have little recourse but to see it through to its natural end in spite of the personal hardships. I passed this book on to my neighbor only yesterday. It is my hope that she will do the same.
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