This post is part of the blog tour for the book. Thanks to Random Things Tours and Endeavour for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Deeney has a habit of running away when things get tough. When his long-term relationship breaks down he takes himself off to France to live the life of a secluded artist. When his mother is moved into a care home and his father’s health deteriorates he realises it might be time to go home and face up to the realities of his family life. He soon makes the decision to have his mother discharged and to look after her full time himself. What follows is a moving account of care with all the pressures and pleasures laid out clearly, with a sense of humour but with a sincerity that makes this a thoughtful read.
It opens with an emotional punch - him taking his mother to the care home and the feeling of betrayal it instils, leaving her there when she wants to go home, not knowing if she understands what’s happening and why. It highlights the vulnerability and loss of control for those who require constant care and will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever had to make a similarly challenging decision. He promises her he’ll take her home one day, with no idea that it will turn out to be true.
Family relationships had been strained for many years with his father increasingly difficult to be around. He took his frustrations out on his family, but especially his wife, and acted as a gatekeeper, making it difficult for loved ones to see her, or for carers to be able to help. When he dies Deeney admits to feeling elated rather than grief, pleased that he'll be free to take care of his mum. It’s clear that his father has cast a dark shadow over the family, with Deeney particularly butting heads with him repeatedly. In spending more time thinking about their family history he is forced to admit his parents really did love each other, for better or worse, and that there’s a lot of good memories buried beneath the bad.
His decision to become a full time career also reveals the reality of the care system (they continue to have carers visiting several times a day). There is a reluctance from the care home and social services initially, partly because it is so rare, there are concerns over the cost (which evaporate when it’s made clear he intends to be entirely self-funded), and additional suspicion because of his gender. The book highlights the gender imbalance in care work, Deeney commenting that his life became almost entirely composed of women. There’s also discussion that for her son and brother she’d only ever been viewed through the prism of caregiver, that her own personality had been obscured. Despite fears that it might be too late, Deeney searches for who his mother really was.
Despite the heavy topic of the book, Deeney writes with a light touch, adding humour, and at times poking fun at his own naivety going in. Before his mum comes home he plans to start dating and has a strong sense that his life should continue, that one life shouldn’t be sacrificed for the preservation of another. There are challenges that he had not anticipated but he works intuitively, trying to make decisions based on what he would want if the roles were reversed. He in no way diminishes the reality of living with dementia, but can also find glimmers of hope within.
More often, as far as I can tell, her thoughts - far from being tethered to the past - are a rich mix of imagination and the world around her, creating a very layered reality, so much more complex than mine, and somehow more real and less conscious at the same time. Often she puts me in mind if a wild animal, tame and trusting enough to allow me to feed her, but all instinct, pure and even beautiful.
I am tempted to say that it feels to me sometimes that in fact Mum lives in a kind of eternal present, which might seem to make her a prisoner of the moment, and so to our minds diminished in some way. And yet I envy her that unfettered interaction with the world. Most of us fritter our lives away with plans for the future and regrets over the past, undermining the whole notion of living in the present that is central to so many enlightened philosophies.
In caring for his mum he re-evaluates life, meditating on some quite philosophical questions and growing as a person.
This is a brilliant, emotive read that will make you want to hold your loved ones close. It forces consideration of some challenging topics yet manages not to feel too heavy. The writing style is conversational and candid, accepting that mistakes were made but learnt from, and advocating for a less adversarial approach from some professionals. He highlights how dire the situation can be without someone in your corner and appreciates the great compassion and dedication evident in the carers that help him in his journey.
Pick up a copy: