Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: My Mother, My Son by Dwayne Clark


“Antidote to Invisibility” [first posted May 8, 2012 in www.aquajane-musings.blogspot.com]

Moved by grief over his mother’s decline into Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and sorrow over society’s tendency to make patients’ diagnoses their new identities,  Dwayne Clark set out to keep his mother Colleen’s lifetime achievements and identity alive. The result is a memoir-tribute, My Mother, My Son. With remarkable candor, Clark chooses stories to aptly illustrate his mother’s feisty personality, character, and values, and her contributions to his development. Woven throughout these stories is their fierce mutual devotion.

Each story (chapter) is dated. Chapters from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s recall Colleen’s early influences. Anecdotes from 1960s and 1970s illustrate Dwayne’s family upbringing. From about 1999 through 2010, stories chronicle Colleen’s decline and the family’s decisions regarding her care. Chapters do not proceed chronologically; rather, they bounce from present to past, usually for a logical purpose. Generally, zigzagging flashbacks disorient me, and a few times while reading this book, I had that feeling. Most of the time, however, I could see why certain stories were placed where they were. For example, when Dwayne senses Colleen’s disorientation and loneliness upon finding herself in a nursing facility, he wonders if perhaps she now feels how she had felt as a young war bride making a long journey from her childhood home in India to her new home in Washington state, so he tells the sea-voyage story at that point.

I wanted to read this book because of the holding on–letting go tug of war in my own heart over my father’s decline into Alzheimer’s. Dwayne Clark articulately wrote out emotions I’d only been able to weep out. Here is one example: “It was as if I had come down with a spiritual and emotional flu, letting all the anger, fear, worry, and loss fully infect my soul.” Reading this book gave me a sense that I’m not alone. Not only did his struggle touch my heart, but it also was lively, interesting reading. Although I could relate to his not wanting to lose his mom in this tragic way, I could not relate to much of his family background. Still, his stories were fun to read. And I really, really wanted to get to know his mom. I’m not even sure I would have liked his mom, had I known her in real life. But I loved her fierce devotion to him, her support of him, her encouragement of him. And as the book points out, her consistent, confidence-building words came full-circle when he grew up to design the very memory-care communities that would embrace his own mother. One of the most encouraging messages of this book, for me anyway, was that our parents live on in us. I don’t want to lose my parents; they carry their own torches more brilliantly than I’ll be able to. Still, I am who I am because of who they are. Despite the heart-breaking subject, this book maintains a positive outlook.

As memoir, My Mother, My Son is universally engaging, especially to those of us in the midst of elder care, but also to a society tempted to diminish the impact of the elderly and infirm. Colleen Clark was not her diseases. Like all dear people afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease, she was a vibrant person who led a full life making a difference in others’ lives. She may forget her stories, but the people she influenced dare not reduce them to invisibility. In this moving tribute, My Mother, My Son, Dwayne Clark succeeds in providing an “antidote to invisibility.”

Because Dwayne Clark is in the business of providing residential care to mature adults, after he finishes his story, he offers practical advice, guidelines, and resources for those on the elder-care journey. I found this section helpful as well.

I received a copy of this book from the book’s publicist. To buy this book on Amazon.com, click this link:
 http://www.amazon.com/My-Mother-Son-determination-memories-lost/dp/098481521X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1336506953&sr=8-1

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