It took me a long time to read this book . . . but that’s not a bad thing.
Christine M. Grote, author of Where Memories Meet: Reclaiming My Father after Alzheimer’s, asked me to read and respond to her book because she knew that, in some ways, we had been on similar journeys. Her father passed away after a four-year decline with Alzheimer’s in late January 2013. My father, Bennett Lee Kramer, passed away after a many-year decline with Alzheimer’s on December 19, 2012.
In a way, her story is the one I wish I had written. At the same time, it was difficult for me to read because of the emotional journey I took into my own head–regrets about things I didn’t say, stories I never heard, questions I never asked, moments I missed.
At one point, while reading, she took me down the rabbit hole of research as I discovered that my father (who was a tank commander) and her father (who fixed tanks during his tour of duty) would have been in Germany AT THE SAME TIME. After some digging (and asking my mother questions) I don’t think they were based in the same location, but they would have overlapped in 1955.
But this is not supposed to be my story, even though in so many ways it is. That’s what makes Grote’s book so powerful.
In Where the Memories Meet, Grote plays with time–simultaneously telling her father’s story (from his memories) in chronological order, and her experience with her father’s decline in reverse chronological order. While this takes a little getting used to at first, it becomes an intricate web that reflects how our memories work. One thought sparks another. One moment mirrors a time from the past. One laugh carries the echoes of every laugh that comes before. One tear pools into the ocean we’ve wept throughout our lifetimes. The end result is a truly intimate and honest look at not just one life, but many lives–and the role we play in each other’s memories.
I’ve written in the past about how I struggle with memoir. Some memoirs seem more narcissistic than real. Some memoirs seem to try to say “this is the truth” without acknowledge the bias of the author–and the reality that memory is fallible.
This book has neither of these problems. Grote does not try to make herself look better or perfect, or ask her readers to feel sorry for her. She simply, and beautifully, tells her story–her doubts, her fears, her questions, her love. She also tells her father’s story, based off of recorded interviews she had with him. Because we already know his memory is fallible, it makes every word more real. His voice clearly comes through, and he too is simply telling HIS story as he remembers it.
The result is powerful, emotional, and thought-provoking.
As painful as it might be, I would recommend this book to anyone who might be dealing with someone they love having dementia or Alzheimer’s, or anyone who fears that in their future. Why? Because it is a reminder that our stories matter, and that we need to share them while we can in whatever way we can.
Stories connect us all.
Thank you, Christine, for sharing yours with us.