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Must-read memoir: All Gone by Alex Witchel

Candace is a full-time freelance book editor whose clients include both major publishing firms and prominent independent presses. She is also a freelance book reviewer and journalist, covering books in a wide range of genres. When she's ...

Coming to terms with
a mother's dementia

Each month Candace of Beth Fish Reads invites you to meet a fascinating new person by reading a buzzworthy memoir or biography. New York Times columnist Alex Witchel's touching memoir of her mother's decline reminds us that's never too late to strengthen our connections to those we love.

Coming to terms with  a mother's dementia

Alex Witchel's mother, Barbara, was the epitome of organization. She had to be to keep up with her many roles: mother, wife, and college professor.

Despite juggling schedules, she would return from work to make simple down-home meals to nourish her family, and always managed to be supportive of and interested in her children and husband.

Thus, it came as shock when Witchel first realized her mother was showing signs of forgetfulness, especially because she was only in her 70s. Witchel's initial reaction was what any strong, can-do woman's would be: Let's find out how we can fix this. Unfortunately, there was to be no medical miracle for Barbara.

When Witchel accepted that she couldn't cure her mother, she found solace in the kitchen. The act of re-creating Barbara's recipes helped Witchel work through her sadness and solidified her connections to her once-capable and compassionate mother.

All Gone is not a how-to book about caring for our aging parents. Instead, it's a moving tribute to Witchel's mother that reminds those whose child–parent relationship has flipped that they are not alone.

Each of the eight short chapters ends with one or more of Barbara's recipes. That Witchel would take up cooking as way to comfort herself and her mother comes as no surprise, considering she's a New York Times food columnist. It is in the kitchen and through her mother's dishes that Witchel remembers her childhood and preserves the memories of the vibrant woman Barbara once was.

The dozen or so recipes printed in the memoir are classic pre-foodie fare. Witchel's childhood dinner table saw many evenings of meat loaf, roasted chicken, kugel, and spaghetti with meat sauce. Although most readers are unlikely to make Barbara's recipes, their inclusion in All Gone is charming and helps round out the portrait of the working mom of Witchel's youth.

Witchel writes lovingly of how much she admired her mother's beauty, intelligence, and encouragement. All Gone is a frank account of how Alex Witchel learned to accept the reality of aging, recognize her mother's strengths in herself,  and fully realize the enduring bonds of love.

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