In honor of Mother's Day and moms everywhere, where sharing a few of our favorite Mom moments in Beacon books. In these passages we've posted on the Beacon Press Scribd page, we have three varied perspectives on motherhood. Michael Patrick MacDonald reflects upon his mother's strength in a passage from All Souls: A Family Story From Southie. Amie Klempnauer Miller recounts the decision-making path she and her partner went down on their way to becoming moms in an excerpt from She Looks Just Like You. And, in Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words, Kate Whouley tells the story of the challenges funnier moments of one Mother's Day with her mom.
Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. This past spring, she approached Beacon with the goal of bringing out some of our titles in audiobook format on Audible, and we couldn't be more excited to announce that the first few books are now available.
Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words is a cry, then laugh, then cry again memoir. Stock up on tissues!
My heart goes out to the author, Kate Whouley, who tells the story of taking care of her mother with dementia against mind-boggling odds.
It's not always “fun,” as in the Rescue Me TV episode when the chief's wife develops Alzheimer's and throws a disco party for her gay son, despite her husband’s homophobia. The reality is unlike anything seen on TV. At one point, Whouley's mother has stopped bathing, and the author has to go through elaborate manipulations just to give her a sponge bath. Anyone’s who’s been there knows what it’s like to be brought to your knees.
Kate is at peace with what eventually happened—but her journey to get there is a tremendous insight into anyone dealing with end-of-life family care.
always been a reader. I love to lose myself deep inside the pages—and the
capacity for observation and my ability to imagine alternate realities has not
always served me well. In the first standardized test I was given, I performed
badly. I was asked to circle the image that should come next in a series of
illustrations. In every scenario, I could imagine too many possibilities. There’s
one I remember: a girl has dropped a bottle of milk on the floor. What would
happen next? Would she clean up the spill? Summon her mother for help? Enjoy
her after-school snack? It seemed to me so much would depend on the character
of that girl. And the plot line of her life. What if her mother wasn’t there
when she got home from school? Did she have a cat who might lap up the milk? Was
she easy-going or a worrier? Is it possible that she dropped the bottle on
purpose because she didn’t like the taste of milk?
You can see
why I had trouble with this test. My results made me a Cub, a member of the
lowest, slowest reading group. Within weeks, I was a Bluebird. And I have still
never forgiven that first grade teacher—her name was Mrs. Cunningham—for
telling the rest of the class—that my climb from Cub to Squirrel to Rabbit to
Bluebird was a result of hard work.
matter, I kept on reading. Anything that was around the house—and there were
plenty of books. My mother was an English teacher and drama coach. I read books
that were not age-appropriate, and when I tired of the plays and novels on my
mother’s bookshelves, I read my way through my grandmother’s Book-of-the-Month
selections and her library of Reader’s Digest Condensed editions.
was in training to become a writer. It’s true I wrote along the way; in fact,
when I was in fourth-grade, Mrs. Cunningham retired, and I was asked to write
and recite a poem in her honor. It was my first unpublished fiction.
high, I was published in a magazine called, Insulators,
Crown Jewels of the Wire. I was too busy practicing my flute to do much
extra-curricular writing in high school or college. After graduation, I taught
flute lessons, waited tables, wrote greeting cards for Hallmark, and landed a
part-time job in a bookstore. As a bookseller—and later as a consultant to
booksellers—I wrote ad copy, radio commercials, blurbs for catalogues, features
and a column for American Bookseller.
writing. But I was not—in my mind—a
my dreams. That’s where I met Woody Allen.
time, I had seen just two Woody Allen movies—Crimes and Misdemeanors and Hannah
and Her Sisters. I did not love either one. Also—in case it is
relevant—this dream occurred before Mr. Allen began dating his sort-of
stepdaughter, now-wife of twenty years.
dream, I am one of maybe ten or fifteen students in a classroom. The teacher is
Woody Allen. Then the scene changes; we’re walking in the park—just me and Mr.
Allen. It’s fall; the leaves have color: a few are on the ground. The
temperature is chilly enough for my companion to be wearing a light overcoat.
Woody Allen turns to me, and says, “You know,
we share the same interests—as writers.” He elaborates: “We’re both fascinated
by relationships. We write from character. We want to know what motivates
people. Also, we wonder why we’re here.”
cannot tell you why my subconscious chose Woody Allen as my writing mentor. (Why
can’t I have Tolstoy?)
I can tell you that when I woke up, I thought
about what Mr. Allen had called me: a writer.
And how he’d treated me as an equal. How quickly I’d advanced from back of the
classroom to walking by his side. And in some strange way, dream-Woody Allen
got me thinking that I might be able to move from writing to writer.
turns out that the man whose movies I had not yet seen was pretty much right-on
about my interests as a writer. I do write from character. That’s not so
typical in a nonfiction writer. In the case of Cottage for Sale: the characters who led me to write were the leading
men of my house-moving adventure—a lot of guys with tool belts and a bossy gray
cat named Egypt.
I started writing Remembering the Music,
I thought I was writing a book about all the intriguing personalities in the
community band I’ve played in for almost twenty years. But my mother—who is
what might be called, in writerly terms, a strong character—seemed to be
showing up on every page. I realized I wasn’t writing a book about the band
with some bits about my mother in it, but rather that I needed to write a book
about my mother with some bits about the band in it.
Remembering the Music is often mistaken
for a book about Alzheimer’s. In fact, it’s a book about all the things that
interest me as a writer: people, relationships, what motivates us, and why we
are here. It’s about choices we make, the journeys we take, and the families we
create from friends. It’s about learning to forgive, and most of all—about
finding the willingness to forget. It’s also about the bridge and consolation
we find in music. And it’s about the things my mother taught me—not only in her
vibrant youth, but in her debilitated and forgetful aging. Not the least of
which was to sit still, be present and know that every moment—remembered or
forgotten—matters to the person sitting next to us.
readers who prefer plot to theme: this is a book about two women, alone in the
world. Both of them just a bit eccentric, odd in their own ways. Both of them
fighters who don’t give up or give in. Though they aren’t so different, they
aren’t so much the same either. And they don’t really get along for most of
their lives. And then—well something horrible happens. Which makes something
all that character and theme and plot, if someone still insists that Remembering the Music is about Alzheimer’s—well,
it’s about the upside of Alzheimer’s. Thisis not a book about an illness. It’s a book about a healing.
have suggested writing this book must have been a cathartic process, but
catharsis was not my motivation or my practice. I wrote this book because I
realized that I had to. That my mother—the version of her showing up on every
page of that band book—wasn’t going away. That she wanted this book—and that
she knew I would learn something in the writing.
we write for the same reasons that we read. To uncover the truth about
something; to learn. Sometimes as readers—and especially as writers—we need to
stand back from a story before we can understand its lessons. From the distance
of the writer, I can tell you what this story taught me: healing comes in most
mysterious ways; we grow through challenge and adversity; life is precious,
relationships—fragile, love—undiscriminating, and hope—never-ending.
In a New York Times interview, Dave Eggers mentions Malcolm Garcia: “there’s a writer named J. Malcolm Garcia who continually astounds me with his energy and empathy…I’ve been following him wherever he goes.”; New York Times
“One of the wonders of coming back to NOTES after such a long time is how “current” Baldwin is. That might sound like a cliché but in so many instances in our lives we learn that some clichés are built on things solid and familiar and timeless. “Journey to Atlanta” is but one of a hundred examples in NOTES. What also comes across, again, is how optimistic James Baldwin was about himself, his world, black people. Even when he describes the awfulness of being black in American, he presents us with an optimism that is sometimes like subtle background music, and sometimes like an insistent drumbeat. But through it all, with each word– perhaps as evidence of a man certain of his message – he never shouts.” From the new introduction by Edward P. Jones (Pulitzer Prize The Known World)
We are babies, toddlers, children, teenagers. We are young people, flirting with option and opportunity. We explore, winnow, commit, arrive. We settle on an acceptable version of ourselves. For ten, or fifteen, or even twenty years, we believe: I am this person; this person is me. Then one day, we turn up middle-aged. This surprises us. We begin to make adjustments, attempt to match our inner and our outer images. We realize that we’re growing—damnit—old. Soon enough, we are really old, and—if we are lucky—ancient. And yet we don’t feel ancient inside—because all those people we have been—well, they won’t go quietly.
As a writer, I am obsessed with the rag-tag parade that lasts a person’s lifetime. I want to know and memorize all those past, present and future variations—in myself, but especially in others. I love the process of sharing stories, for in stories, we meet the selves we cannot see—lined up single-file, in the lives of new friends. Sharing stories, we remind old friends that we once were young—or at least, younger. Sharing stories, we keep the memories—and all our human variations—alive. If we are doubly blessed, there may be people in the world who can tell us stories of our childhoods, and children in our lives who will one day ask us to tell them about the day they were born.
Still, over-linking our identities to our stories has its downside. What happens when you can’t remember the stories? With the loss of memory, are those versions of ourselves disappeared?
My mother—who was diagnosed with a combination of vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease—taught me that it is possible to forget who we once were—and even to forget who we are now. But while an organic brain disease may prevent the remembering, it doesn’t halt the parade of selves. Even as her disease progressed, my mother emerged anew. For a time, her humor carried an edge. Her moods were volatile, and she was prone to angry outbursts—directed mostly at me. But she could not sustain the anger when she began to forget what—or who—was making her mad. In time, my mother emerged from a chrysalis of fear, confusion and anger to become a chatty, smiling social butterfly. She grew lighter; losing track of her old selves, she was free of bad memories and troubled times. She laughed more often--that same, full-throated, honest laugh she laughed when I was a kid. The laugh I can still hear.
My mother, at that point, could be prompted to recall her early variations, and taking a cue from her forgetting, I told her stories of good times, reminded her of former glories. She would smile, nod, express admiration for her younger self and her achievements, which were not inconsiderable. Remembering is what I did for my mother—not just the big life-event sort of remembering, but the putting-on-a-coat-because-it’s cold outside remembering, too. It’s the second kind of remembering—because of the second kind of forgetting, that is actually harder on everybody.
Early in my mother’s journey into Alzheimer’s, I fought for her memory, concerned with all those past, now-lost versions of the woman I knew. In time, I gained some altitude—a new perspective and a kind of grace. I learned to live life her way: moment to present-moment.
“It’s a blessing,” unthinking, well-meaning people told me, when my mother passed away, “that she died while she still knew you.”
I would give up recognition for a living, pain-free, forgetful mother any day. I’d be willing, every day, to spin the yarn of her own life for the woman who always loved a good story.
Like many mother-daughter relationships, ours was complicated. I did not love all the versions of my mother equally; yet I hope to honor all her selves when I remember them. But there’s something else my mother taught me—late in her life: forgetting them is okay too. I need not watch the parade. It feels great to sit with your eyes on the person in front of you. And sitting with my mother, knowing she had lost so many pieces of her life, so many memories of her former selves, I came to believe there is something permanent—or at least something transferable—that we carry with us. Something beyond the memory of our variations, beyond the sum of our experiences, beyond what we can express. Maybe, if we live with care—for ourselves and for others—we might manage to hold onto the metaphor we call our soul. May my mother’s rest in peace.
In her new memoir, Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words: Travels with Mom in the Land of Dementia, Kate Whouley strips away the romantic veneer of mother-daughter love to bare the toothed and tough reality of caring for a parent who is slowly losing her mind. In an interview we conducted at Whouley's home on Cape Cod, she recounted some of the lessons she learned as dementia took away her mother's ability to care for herself.
In Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words, Kate Whouley strips away the romantic veneer of mother-daughter love to bare the toothed and tough reality of caring for a parent who is slowly losing her mind. Yet, this is not a dark or dour look at the demon of Alzheimer’s. Whouley shares the trying, the tender, and the sometimes hilarious moments in meeting the challenge also known as Mom.
As her mother, Anne, falls into forgetting, Kate remembers for her. In Anne we meet a strong-minded, accidental feminist with a weakness for unreliable men. The first woman to apply for—and win—a department-head position in her school system, Anne was an innovative educator who poured her passion into her work. House-proud too, she made certain her Hummel figurines were dusted and arranged just so. But as her memory falters, so does her housekeeping. Surrounded by stacks of dirty dishes, piles of laundry, and months of unopened mail, Anne needs Kate’s help—but she doesn’t want to relinquish her hard-won independence any more than she wants to give up smoking.
Time and time again, Kate must balance Anne’s often nonsensical demands with what she believes are the best decisions for her mother’s comfort and safety. This is familiar territory for anyone who has had to help a loved one in decline, but Kate finds new and different ways to approach her mother and her forgetting. Shuddering under the weight of accumulating bills and her mother’s frustrating, circular arguments, Kate realizes she must push past difficult family history to find compassion, empathy, and good humor.
When the memories, the names, and then the words begin to fade, it is the music that matters most to Kate’s mother. Holding hands after a concert, a flute case slung over Kate’s shoulder, and a shared joke between them, their relationship is healed—even in the face of a dreaded and deadly diagnosis. “Memory,” Kate Whouley writes, “is overrated.”