All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments

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A daughter’s longing love letter to a mother who has slipped beyond reach.
Just past seventy, Alex Witchel’s smart, adoring, ultracapable mother began to exhibit undeniable signs of dementia. Her smart, adoring, ultracapable daughter reacted as she’d been raised: If something was broken, they would fix it. But as medical reality undid that hope, and her mother continued the torturous process of disappearing in plain sight, Witchel retreated to the ...

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All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments

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Overview

A daughter’s longing love letter to a mother who has slipped beyond reach.
Just past seventy, Alex Witchel’s smart, adoring, ultracapable mother began to exhibit undeniable signs of dementia. Her smart, adoring, ultracapable daughter reacted as she’d been raised: If something was broken, they would fix it. But as medical reality undid that hope, and her mother continued the torturous process of disappearing in plain sight, Witchel retreated to the kitchen, trying to reclaim her mother at the stove by cooking the comforting foods of her childhood: “Is there any contract tighter than a family recipe?” 

Reproducing the perfect meat loaf was no panacea, but it helped Witchel come to terms with her predicament, the growing phenomenon of “ambiguous loss ”— loss of a beloved one who lives on. Gradually she developed a deeper appreciation for all the ways the parent she was losing lived on in her, starting with the daily commandment “Tell me everything that happened today” that started a future reporter and writer on her way. And she was inspired to turn her experience into this frank, bittersweet, and surprisingly funny account that offers true balm for an increasingly familiar form of heartbreak.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
In this haunting, unflinching and at times unexpectedly hilarious memoir, Alex Witchel offers up a fiercely honest account of how her adored mother slowly began "disappearing in plain sight." All Gone is a potluck dish containing a variety of ingredients: childhood stories, complete with a cast of vibrantly portrayed relatives; practical knowledge gleaned from Witchel's desperate battle against the relentless advance of her parent's small-stroke-induced dementia; and, yes, real recipes passed down by her mother and grandmother…All Gone is a book that may make you cry (I did), but through some mysterious alchemy it will also leave you with many positive feelings. It will make you smile and even laugh out loud. Running throughout its pages is a powerful affirmation of family bonds, of the soul-sustaining love…that persist from generation to generation.
—Maggie Scarf
Publishers Weekly
New York Times Magazine writer, columnist, and novelist Witchel saw her mother descend into uncharacteristic forgetfulness and lethargy in the mid-2000s, prompting the author’s rueful, occasionally vitriolic rumination on childhood and familial relations. Growing up in Passaic, N.J., in a mostly nonreligious Jewish community, before moving to Scarsdale (at age 12) as her dad moved up at his Madison Avenue job, Witchel recalls an uneasy “bomb-shelter mentality” pervading their house in the late 1950s and 1960s, a love affair with synthetic food products like Bac-Os that translated into comforting Jewish menus she still loves to cook and for which she offers recipes: meatloaf with cornflakes, frankfurter goulash, fried meat kreplach, and so on. Witchel adored her cerebral mother, who got her doctorate in psychology later in life, teaching for three-plus decades at Iona College, although she was often absent from home, earning the wrath of her husband, Witchel’s father, whose criticism of his daughter’s writing early on convinced her she had no talent. Witchel’s close bond with her mother, described as evolving from helper to lawyer to bodyguard, meant Witchel was stricken personally by her mother’s aging condition, receiving her forgetfulness as a personal failure and betrayal. Being the good daughter only went so far, and Witchel bares her distress frankly in this thin, taut contribution to the growing body of literature devoted to the toll of parent-care. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
A journalist's bittersweet memoir about coping with her mother's dementia by preparing her mother's recipes. When New York Times Magazine food columnist and novelist Witchel (The Spare Wife, 2008, etc.) discovered her college-professor mother was ill with dementia, she was shocked. The woman who had successfully managed to juggle marriage, motherhood and a career had also hidden her deteriorating health from her family. Witchel was suddenly forced into the position of becoming a parent to a stubborn, strong-willed mother and watching her begin "the tortuous process of disappearing in plain sight." Overwhelmed by this role-shift and the changes it brought into her life, the author sought comfort by making the meals her mother once prepared for the family, such as meatloaf, spaghetti, roast chicken and potato latkes. Childhood memories came flooding back. Witchel remembers her mother as a gifted woman who defied both familial and social expectations to construct a professional identity for herself; as an individual who "lived her life as an act of will," was the dominant force at home and expected nothing but the best from her children. Her father may have been "the ultimate authority," but it was her mother who "ran the show." She was also the person who guided her daughter toward the love of gastronomy that would eventually find expression in Witchel's work as a journalist. Warm and always humane, Witchel's narrative is a poignant, candid reminder of the new normal that now defines so many adult child-aging parent relationships.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594487910
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 9/27/2012
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Alex Witchel is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and originated the popular “Feed Me” column for the Dining section. The author of three previous books, she has also written for New York, Vogue, Elle, and Ladies’ Home Journal, among other publications. She lives in New York with her husband, Frank Rich.

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Customer Reviews

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( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 26, 2012

    Highly recommend this touching story. But first you should read "Girls Only" for background and ANOTHER wonderful background memoir.

    I was deeply moved by Ms. Witchel's revealing and personal story of her relationships with her sister and her mother, as well as her extended family. Only when an author shares her own deep emotions can one be moved by books such as these. I have become a HUGE new fan and can't wait for her next book. Her writing is so good, I'll have to find her earlier pieces of fiction too. Real memoirs are my favorite genre, and these are among the best I have found.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2012

    This is not a memoir of her mother's dementia, as stated.  It is

    This is not a memoir of her mother's dementia, as stated.  It is unorganized memories of her life.  Truly disappointing. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2013

    Disappointed--did not learn much of anything but a few good reci

    Disappointed--did not learn much of anything but a few good recipes. The author loved to talk about herself more than anyone else.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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