4 out of 4 stars
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Growing old can be both a blessing and a burden. With the passing of each year, there can be a greater sense of who you are, wisdom from life’s experiences, and satisfying relationships with family and friends. After the passing of a few more years, there can also be the increase of aches and pains, forgetfulness, and the need to slow your pace of life.
The Journey Home is a multi-sensory collection of vignettes by Gabriel Bron that chronicles his experiences with his parents during their last two years of life. The stories begin with a bridge game that unveils his mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The reader then accompanies the author through the ensuing conversations, memories, and decisions the family makes to adjust to the rapidly changing dynamics of their relationship. From the impressionist illustration introducing each story to the engulfing interaction the author shares in each account, the thirty-five entries are a moving experience. The impressionist style of art complemented the stage of life covered in this book: bold colors, shifting boundaries, a bit of sensory confusion, yet still very communicative.
The book was written in the first-person narrative from the perspective of Gabriel, the third of five children born to Mr. and Mrs. Bron. Gabriel has a unique combination of expertise and temperament to make him the perfect narrator for this collection. His background in linguistics, even specializing in the use of language in dementia, gave him a realistic interpretation of his mother’s thoughts when he switched to an omniscient first-person perspective during interactions with her.
Although I enjoyed the stories involving his mother, I have always been a daddy’s girl, and I found the most precious parts of the book to be his interactions with his father. His dad was a no-nonsense, hard-working World War II veteran who loved his family and was an expert at fixing problems: relationship, financial, baseball, any kind of problem. I admired that he gave up drinking without hesitation so that he wouldn’t miss anything while caring for his wife. I felt for him when he struggled with socializing after his wife’s Alzheimer’s advanced; he still had their shared friends and was not a widower, but he did not have the companionship or the social connection his wife had always supplied. He was a thoughtful man and was not afraid to make decisions that were in the best interest of his family.
While I appreciated the intentional design of the book to give the reader snapshots of this intimate time between the author and his parents, it would have been nice to know more about the other family members. For example, Gabriel’s older sister, Kate, was the primary caregiver and decision-making sibling regarding their parents’ affairs. She spent an incredible amount of time with their parents, but there was no mention if she had a spouse or children. I wondered who was supporting her while she was supporting her parents. Likewise, the author acknowledged he had two sons. It was obvious he did not live near his parents because he had to travel and rent a car when visiting them. But, as with Kate, there was no mention of any spouse or support system. Also, the other siblings were rarely referenced. This aspect of the read felt compartmentalized. It would have helped to understand the relationship his parents had with their other children and grandchildren, at least tangentially.
I rate The Journey Home 4 out of 4 stars. The previously noted observation did not affect my enjoyment of this peaceful, respectful, sometimes humorous, emotional read. The author skillfully shared the love between his father and mother and the love they had for their family. Those who have cared for an aging parent, relative, or spouse will identify with the emotions and scenes in this collection of vignettes. I also recommend this book to anyone who would like a glimpse of the beauty, difficulty, and reward in caring for those you love as they age.
The Journey Home
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