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Reviewed by:
  • Making an Exit: A Mother-Daughter Drama with Machine Tools, Alzheimer's, and Laughter, and: Losing a Life: A Daughter's Memoir of Caregiving
  • Annie Dollins (bio)
Making an Exit: A Mother-Daughter Drama with Machine Tools, Alzheimer's, and Laughter by Elinor Fuchs. New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt, 2005, 208 pp., $23.00 hardcover, $14.00 paperback.
Losing a Life: A Daughter's Memoir of Caregiving by Nancy Gerber. Lanham University Press of America, 2005, 79 pp., $18.00 paperback.

The journey that a daughter travels after a parent experiences a life-altering health change is the focus of these two memoirs. Both daughters start out from very different relationships with their parents and have different roads to travel. However, barriers and road conditions that they encounter on this journey bear many similarities. Nancy Gerber shares what history she has learned about her father as a child, Jewish immigrant [End Page 219] of the late 1930s, certified public accountant (CPA), father, and member of a community. Gerber's description of shared early morning practices such as "shaving" together in t-shirts, pretending to be Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston or John Glenn and Alan Shepard evoke the deep tenderness possible between a daughter and her father. What happens to many fathers and mothers eventually happens to Gerber's father. Charles Gerber experiences a stroke, a health change that leaves him vulnerable and fragile. Initially, he is unable to walk, eat safely, or make decisions about his care. She finds that everyday activities of living such as eating, walking, and talking need to be either relearned or lost. Time passes, losses accumulate, and Gerber begins to mourn for the father she knew, loved, and has now lost. In spite of this loss, Gerber becomes a major player in attending to the care her father needs.

Elinor Fuchs shares her feelings as an only child whose mother, Lil, possesses a persona that outshines the presence of all around her. On the periphery of her mother's glamorous and modern existence, time passes and more distance than endearment characterizes their relationship. Fuchs comes to enter midlife; her mother enters her years as an elder. Fuchs's nine-year emergency begins when she detects a pattern of disconcerting behaviors exhibited by her mother. When her mother is given the diagnosis of Alzheimer's, Fuchs learns to find joy in moments playing patty-cake, maybe for the first time. As memories become more distant for her mother, Fuchs begins to find the other mother she would love. When Elinor starts the conversation she wished they had before the Alzheimer's, Lil finds her way through the Alzheimer's to participate in a touching moment. They both profess a deep knowledge that they love the other and that they are deeply loved by the other.

Story differences aside, both daughters encounter similar problems. These are stories of the dutiful daughter. The daughters in the stories learn to reverse the roles and become the parent to a vulnerable and fragile elderly mother or father. They struggle to learn how one honors other commitments as partner, mother, student, while taking on the responsibility of parenting a parent. It is in this new role and the problems they counter that a fruitful topography for learning is offered.

There are two tiers of academic use for these texts. The first tier examines the experiences as described. The second level examines the text from a women's studies framework that can stand alone in a women's studies course or be integrated into discipline-specific courses.

For the first tier, both books offer entrée into learning about the human condition as it relates to specific disciplines. Nursing, medicine, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and social work are a few examples of the professions about which students can learn from these books. Topics for introductory discipline-specific courses include who is patient; what roles do the nurse, physical therapist, or social worker take on; and how are the [End Page 220] interpretations of episodes of care relevant for each discipline? Either book also could be used in courses focused on specific health care topics, for example, loss, grief...


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