Lou Ann Hunter’s mother has always had a passionate nature, which explains why she’s been married five times and spooned enough male patients to be ousted from three elderly care facilities. She also has Alzheimer’s, which is why she wants to spend the rest of her life surrounded by childhood memories at Sutton Hall, her family’s decrepit plantation home in Louisiana.
Lou Ann, a.k.a. Lulu the Love Guru, has built an empire preaching sex, love, and relationship advice to the women of America—mostly by defying the example her mother has set for her. But with her mom suddenly in need of a fulltime caretaker, Lou Ann reluctantly agrees to step out of the spotlight and indulge her mother’s wishes.
Upon her arrival at Sutton Hall, Lou Ann discovers that very little functions as it should—least of all her mother’s mind. And as she adjusts to this new and inevitably temporary dynamic with the help of a local handyman and a live-in nurse, she is forced to confront the reality that neither her nor her mother’s future is going according to plan.
“Fans of Sophie Kinsella and Jane Graves will love Rachel Gibson’s How Lulu Lost Her Mind, an endearing, funny, and heart-tugging story from the first page to the last” (Karen Hawkins, New York Times bestselling author).
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Chapter 1 1
THIS IS not a good time for Mother’s shenanigans. I have a three-thirty flight to Los Angeles; my suitcases are loaded in the back, and my boarding pass is in my shoulder bag. I figure I have thirty minutes to deal with Mother and still make my flight. If that isn’t enough time, I’ll deal with her when I get back.
It’s raining so hard the wipers can barely keep up with the drops bouncing off the hood of my Land Rover. On a good day, I’m not the best driver on the road, and this is far from a good day. Visibility isn’t great and the Cranberries screaming out “Zombie” on the radio pinch the corner of my eye. Despite thirty units of Botox, I can almost feel deep elevens furrow my brow. I hit the control button, and the panel goes black. My forehead relaxes, and my eyebrows are safe.
I have to be inside the Los Angeles Convention Center by 10 a.m. tomorrow. I’m in the middle of my ten-city Find True Love in February tour. All the dates are sold out. I have to be there. I am Lulu the Love Guru, expert on finding and keeping love, but there can’t be a Lulu event if Lulu is stuck in Seattle straightening out whatever mess Mom’s gotten herself into this time. The administrator of Mom’s senior care facility didn’t go into a lot of detail, but I can fill in the blanks. Mom’s been socializing again, but this is nothing new. If he’d just waited an hour, I’d be in the air and unavailable, but that would have been too easy. My relationship with my mother has rarely been easy.
My mother is seventy-four and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years ago, when she forgot she’d put a pan of grease on the stove and almost torched herself. She managed to escape with nothing more than some singed hair, thank God. The bad news was that we discovered she was already stage four. She’d been so good at covering it up that I hadn’t noticed her decline. Looking back, there were signs, of course. She was forgetful of time and phone numbers, but who doesn’t occasionally miss an appointment? Heck, I can’t call anyone without looking at the contacts list on my phone, and I just turned thirty-eight.
I should have paid more attention and gotten her help earlier. Nothing will cure her disease, but things would have been different, at least in the earlier stages. I have a lot of guilt about that, and about a few other things, too.
I pull up the cuff of my black wool blazer as I turn into the parking lot. The rain slowed me down, but I still have enough time to run in and sign whatever Golden Springs wants me to sign and run back out. Mom was a card before she got sick, and now she’s upped the ante. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to meet with the administrators. This isn’t even Mom’s first facility—it’s her third.
The first adult care residence had documented each episode of her compulsive spooning and other nocturnal infractions until she got booted. Apparently, she’s at it again. Mother has never liked sleeping alone and, eyeing all the possibilities laid out before her like a senior-living man buffet, she doesn’t think she should have to, either.
When I was growing up, she made me sleep with her when she didn’t have a man. I hadn’t minded because that meant there wasn’t anyone else in our lives and I had Mom all to myself. I’d crawl into her bed, or she’d crawl into mine, and we’d laugh and talk while she held my hand. Those are some of the best memories I have of Mom and me.
Golden Springs doesn’t have valet service like Mom’s last facility, so I find a parking spot as close to the front doors as possible. That still leaves a few huge puddles and a stream of water between me and the sidewalk.
If I’d known I was going to take a detour halfway to the airport, I would have left earlier. If I’d known I was going to hop puddles, I certainly wouldn’t have worn my Dior hobble skirt or Louboutin pumps.
With my movement restricted, I slide out of the SUV and land on a spot of asphalt that isn’t completely covered in water. Rain hits my face, and I raise my shoulder bag over my head like a makeshift umbrella and skip and hop across the parking lot as best I can. Big fat drops bounce up from the ground as I pick up the pace. I’m close enough to the sidewalk that I make a daring leap at the curb. My leap is more rabbit hop than graceful gazelle, and I land in a deep puddle. Cold water fills my leather pumps, and I suck in a breath. If I were a swearing kind of girl, I’d let loose with some f-bombs right about now, but my mother raised me to be a “lady.” Instead, I say, “Crap,” which is hardly better by Mother’s standards.
I hurry up the sidewalk and pass a golden fountain shooting a ridiculous amount of water into the pouring rain. The automatic front doors open and my shoes are squishy as I approach the front desk.
“I’m Lou Ann Hunter and—”
“Over there,” the receptionist interrupts as she points to the offices down one hall. “Third door.”
Yeah, I know the drill. I pass two couples sitting in the hall; they eye me like they’re not really happy to be here either. Like parents being called to the principal’s office.
I knock twice and open the door. My gaze instantly lands on the troublemaker, swallowed up in a puffy leather La-Z-Boy. Her long dark hair is loose and pulled to one side, and the Louis Vuitton Bumbag I got her for Christmas is belted around the waist of her velour tracksuit. Mother has always been particular about her appearance, and even with stage four Alzheimer’s, she still manages to draw a perfect red lip. “Hello, Mom.” She glances at me before returning her attention to a wall clock. Mother can read the numbers but has no real concept of time. Just like she can pick out words and read short sentences, but her comprehension of what she’s read is dicey. When it comes to context and retention, she usually craps out.
“Why are you here?” she asks. No friendly hello or motherly “It’s good to see you, Lou.”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure about to find out.”
Douglas, the administrator, doesn’t offer a much friendlier greeting. “Ms. Hunter.”
I know this drill, too. I smile and dig down deep and channel my inner Patricia Lynn Jackson-Garvin-Hunter-Russo-Thompson-Doyle. Mom’s been married five times and deals in charm like Vegas deals in cards. She discards just as easily, too. “Douglas.” I step forward and shake his hand. “I’m sorry my hands are a little cold. The weather is horrible.”
He doesn’t smile, and I get a little worried.
Mother hasn’t looked at me again, making me wonder if they have drugged her up.
Douglas gestures to the chair across from his desk and says, “Please take a seat.”
“Of course.” I place my purse on the floor and slide my feet out of my shoes, kicking them upside down so the water will drain out. “So, has Mom been wandering at night again?” I glance at her, and she cuts me a look before returning her attention to the clock. She doesn’t appear to be drugged, and I can’t tell which version of her is with us today. “How’d she get out of her room this time?” Mom has what is called a passive infrared sensor, or PIR, alarm that signals the nursing station when the stream is broken. She’s had different alarm systems in the past, but she’s like Houdini and finds a way out. This one has worked the best—until now.
“The PIR alarms are only set when the resident is in his or her room for the night. During the day, we encourage socializing as a way to combat insolating and depression.”
“So, Mom was ‘socializing’ during the day?” If I’m here, it means she wasn’t chatting or playing board games.
“Yes.” He glances at the paperwork on his desk. “Patricia was discovered in the Complete Care unit at two thirty in the afternoon.”
Complete Care is in a different hub. At some point, Mother will be moved to that unit. My stomach drops. I don’t like to think about it. “Today?”
“On the tenth.”
That was three days ago.
“She was discovered in the bed of resident Walter Shone.”
This is not a surprise to me. “Yes. Mother is affectionate.”
“Walter Shone is eighty-one and suffers from end-stage dementia. He’d been comatose for several weeks.”
So if he didn’t know anything happened, what’s the big deal?
“Imagine his wife’s surprise when she discovered Patricia wrapped around her husband like an octopus.”
Again, not a surprise. Mom has always been a notorious man stealer. “I imagine that was quite shocking.” I glance at the clock because it’s not as rude as looking at my watch, snapping my fingers, and saying, “Chop-chop. I’ve got a plane to catch.”
“It was horrific. His sons and five grandchildren had come with their mother to say their last goodbyes.”
“That is bad of her.” Mother had robbed a family of their private moments of grief. I feel awful about that, but she has Alzheimer’s, and this is a memory care facility. She’s here for a reason, and she needs help as much as any other patient. “I know Mother is very sorry.” I rise to hurry Douglas along.
“He had an erection.”
Gross! “With severe dementia? Wearing Depends?” I turn my head to look at Mom. “Tell me that you did not take that man’s pants off.”
Mom shrugs a shoulder and continues to stare at the clock. “I have a passionate nature.”
“For God’s sake!” Some people are addicted to drugs or alcohol, money or chocolate. Mom’s addiction has always been men, and having Alzheimer’s hasn’t changed that one bit. If anything, Alzheimer’s makes it worse. She doesn’t even attempt to hide her “passionate nature” anymore. Not that she’d ever tried very hard anyway.
“We can’t have that behavior here.”
No shit. I keep my smile in place and try not to lose my cool. This is her third facility. She got kicked out of the first for spooning, and the second for what I call going “Rattlesnake Patty” just one too many times—that is, threatening to kill other female patients for stealing her “boyfriends” and plundering seven bags of Pirate’s Booty from her hidden stash. Honestly, who steals seven bags of Pirate’s Booty?
“This is a safety issue that we cannot tolerate at Golden Springs.”
Again, no shit. Somehow my mother wandered into the Complete Care unit and no one noticed. Mother is very wily, and I can’t blame Golden Springs entirely. “Thank God no one was hurt.” Physically anyway. I’m sure the grandkids have mental scars. I shift in my seat and calmly say, “I’m sure we can come up with a better way to keep track of Mother during social hours.” I even manage a little joke. “Perhaps lead shoes.”
“Wynonna stole all my shoes,” Mom says, and I’m just thankful she isn’t blaming me this time. “My Pirate’s Booty too.”
Douglas pats a stack of papers. “We’re discharging Patricia to your care.”
“Excuse me?” Unfortunately, he repeats what I thought I’d heard the first time. Finding a different facility won’t be easy. Like I said, I know the drill. Last time, it had taken more than the thirty-day grace period to find Golden Springs. I’d had no choice but to have Mom live with me in my condo. Within weeks, she made me lose my mind. It took a while to find it again, and I don’t want to lose it once more. “That seems like a drastic solution to a more easily solvable problem.” I’m Lulu the Love Guru. I built a multimillion-dollar empire from nothing but a legal pad. I calmly suggest a second option. “Perhaps we could tie a bell around her ankle.” I didn’t get where I am today by accident. When something stands between me and my goals, I solve the problem.
“We had a staff meeting this morning, and it’s been decided. We’ve included a packet outlining her dietary needs, medication, doctors, and appointments. You’ll need to take these with you.”
I take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay.” I slide my hand into my purse and pull out my wallet. “How much?” I grab a pen and poise it above a blank check. “How much to make this all go away and then we can all move forward with our day.”
“It’s not about money.”
I pull up my sleeve and glance at my watch. “I don’t have time to negotiate, Douglas. How many zeros?”
“It’s not about money,” he says again, but I don’t believe him.
“I was on my way to the airport when you called.” I shove my wallet back inside my purse. They probably want to charge me an arm and a leg for more sensors and alarms. “We can continue this conversation when I return.” I lean to one side and grab my soggy shoes. “I have to go, or I’ll miss my flight.”
“I don’t think you understand. Patricia has already been discharged.”
“What? You’ve got to be kidding.” That means I have only a month to come up with a solution that doesn’t involve Mother driving me crazy again. Impossible. They have to reverse their decision. I slide my foot into one pump and stand. “Mother, promise Douglas you won’t spoon anymore.”
She continues to stare at the clock. “I’m having dinner with Earl.”
“Mom!” I limp in front of her so she has to look at me, and I say firmly, “Promise you’ll control your passionate nature.”
“No one will believe that!” She laughs. “That’s for sure!”
“If you’ll sign here.”
I turn to Douglas and say, as politely as possible, “When I brought her here, I told you that she wanders at night.” I wave the pump in my hand at the papers on his desk. “You wrote it down and assured me that the staff would watch out for her.”
“This happened during the day, when it’s more difficult to watch every patient.”
“I don’t give a damn.”
Mom sucks in a scandalized breath. “Lou Ann!”
“Damn isn’t a swear word. How long was my mother missing before she was found in bed with that old guy?”
“A long time,” admits the ruby-lipped troublemaker.
“I don’t need your help, Mom.” I point my pump in her general direction and return to the desk. “Who was responsible for watching her?”
“Every one of our staff members is dedicated to the care and welfare of our clients.” He thumbs through his papers. “Here’s the admission agreement you signed last year.”
Okay. They’re not taking her back, and I need to think fast. Legally, they have to give me thirty days’ written notice that they’re discharging her, and I need to find an alternative memory care facility. Even if I weren’t traveling, that’s hardly enough time. I can’t just drop her off someplace because they have an open bed. No matter how tempting, I can’t do that to my mother. “I’ll need more than thirty days.” I have to be in LA tomorrow morning. My tour is sold out. I have to leave now.
“Perhaps I haven’t been clear. She must vacate today.”
It takes a few moments for that information to penetrate my skull. When it does, my mouth drops.
“I’ve included several brochures of qualified memory care facilities in her discharge packet.” He looks at Mother. “We’re sorry it’s come to this.”
“It’s okay, Doug.”
No. It’s not! I want to yell at him for being an asshole, but I’ve learned that yelling and name-calling ends all conversation and gives men an excuse to call you hysterical. “Not as sorry as I am. You lost track of my mother, and you don’t even know how long she was missing.” I take a breath and intend to calmly demand at least thirty days, but Douglas says something that I wish he hadn’t. The one thing that never fails to ignite my anger.
“Some things fall through the cracks.”
Those words hit my forehead and shoot through my brain. I lean forward and point my Louboutin at his chest. “My mother does not fall through the cracks.” For so many years, I was invisible. A nobody. Someone who fell through the cracks. “My mother is not so insignificant that she falls through any cracks, you asshole.”
Douglas stands and looks at me from across his desk. “This conversation is going nowhere.”
Without both heels, I am considerably shorter, but nothing intimidates me, especially when someone dismisses me or my mother. I do, however, lower my pump. “Legally you have to give me at least thirty days.”
He picks up a piece of paper and reads it to me. “This is section seven of the admission agreement titled ‘Terms and Termination Rights of Care Provider,’ that you signed. Paragraph three, subsection b: ‘If the resident exhibits behavior or actions that repeatedly and substantially interfere with the rights, health, safety, or well-being of other residents and staff, and the facility has tried prudent and reasonable interventions, the contract may be found breached and may result in the resident’s discharge and order to vacate. If the resident is found in violation of 7.03 (b), this agreement may be enforced without notice or arbitration.’”
He hands it to me, but I don’t need to read it. I’ve seen versions of it before. The difference is that the other facilities didn’t include that last sentence. “My mother isn’t a threat to anyone’s health and safety but her own.” I don’t need to glance at my watch anymore. I can’t make the flight. I need to call my agent. “I know that somewhere, in some section of this agreement, is the ‘reasonable care’ clause, holding Golden Springs responsible for the health and safety of my mother. You don’t know how long my mother was wandering around or when she found Mr. Shone. No one knew she was missing, and no one was looking out for her health and safety.” I put a hand on the desk and lean to one side to put my shoe on as best I can. “You didn’t contact me for three days.” Then I issue a threat that I know is empty even as I say it. “I could sue you and let the courts decide who breached the agreement.” I’m royally pissed off, but I’m not a masochist. I know all too well that lawsuits are emotionally draining time-sucks and that there’s no guarantee I’d win. Suing would be a bigger hassle than it’s worth, and what would be the point? I still have to leave with my mother today.
“You’ll have to get in line behind Mrs. Shone.” Douglas sighs and replaces the paper. “She’s threatened a civil lawsuit against Golden Springs unless your mother is discharged immediately.”
Wow, that’s vindictive, especially toward a woman with Alzheimer’s. “What’s she afraid Mother’s going to do now? The guy’s practically dead already.”
He looks up from his paper. “Mr. Shone has made a miraculous recovery.”
I blink several times. “What?”
“He’s awake and seems to recognize his family.”
Mom has a little smile on her face. She’s very pleased with herself, and I suppose she has that right. Not just any woman can spoon a man out of his coma. I pick up my purse and raise my chin. There’s only one thing left to say. “Tell Mrs. Shone that Patricia Jackson says, ‘You’re welcome.’”
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for HOW LULU LOST HER MIND includes an introduction and suggested discussion questions. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Lou Ann Hunter’s mother, Patricia, has always had a passionate nature, which explains why she’s been married and divorced five times and spooned enough male patients to be ousted from three elderly care facilities. She also has Alzheimer’s, which is why she wants to spend the rest of her life surrounded by childhood memories at Sutton Hall, her family’s decrepit plantation home in Louisiana.
Lou Ann, a.k.a. Lulu the Love Guru, has built an empire preaching sex, love, and relationship advice to the women of America—mostly by defying the example her mother has set for her. But with Patricia suddenly in need of a fulltime caretaker, Lou Ann reluctantly agrees to step out of the spotlight and indulge her mother’s wishes, even if it means trading in her Louboutins and Chanel N°5 for boots and mosquito repellant.
Upon her arrival at Sutton Hall, Lou Ann discovers that very little functions as it should—least of all Patricia’s mind. And as she adjusts to this new and inevitably temporary dynamic with the help of a local handyman and a live-in nurse, she is forced to confront the reality that neither her nor her mother’s future is going according to plan.
Topics & Questions for Discussion:
1. Lulu’s relationship with her mother is the driving force behind How Lulu Lost Her Mind, but the first mention we get of their relationship is when Lulu goes to her mom’s care facility like a parent “being called to the principal’s office” (page 4). How is Lulu and Patricia’s dynamic different—and the same—from a typical mother-daughter relationship? How do Lulu and Patricia view, and manage, their reversal of maternal roles? How does Lulu partake in this role reversal while respecting Patricia and being mindful of her mother’s dignity?
2. Love, sex, and relationships are a big part of each female character’s life. Lulu’s entire empire is based on love advice, Patricia is an infamous flirt, and Lindsey’s secret has to do with the father of her child. How do their views on romance differ, and how do they inform their decisions throughout the novel (like when Lindsey lies about Frankie’s father or Lulu steps back from her relationship business)?
3. One of the most emotional scenes in the novel is when Lulu returns Patricia’s pills, “giving her back the right to make the choice” (page 282). Do you agree with Lulu’s decision? Why or why not?
4. Lulu reluctantly moves from a sleek urban environment to a crumbling plantation in Louisiana. But at the end of the novel she says, “Sutton Hall is a two-hundred-year-old money pit, and I can’t think of anywhere else I would rather call home” (page 320). How, and why, does Lulu’s perception of her family home change? Why do you think Rachel Gibson might have chosen to start the story in the Pacific Northwest and move it to the South?
5. Caring for a parent with late-stage Alzheimer’s is a heavy topic, but How Lulu Lost Her Mind balances the heartache with laughter. Did you feel that the humor added to or detracted from the emotional toll of Patricia’s decline? How can we use humor to deal with grief, and where should we draw the line?
6. When Frankie is born, Lulu is able to remember her mother without feeling pain for the first time since her death. Why is Frankie’s birth what helps Lulu start to heal? What does the memory of Patricia at Lindsey’s baby shower mean to Lulu?
7. When her mother acts out, Lulu chooses to blame Patricia’s alter ego, “Rattlesnake Patty.” What do you think Lulu gains by viewing her mom as two separate people?
8. Raphael the parrot is a stand-out character in his own right, and his feud with Lindsey makes for some of the funniest moments in the book. What do you see as his purpose in this story? Has a pet ever helped you through a difficult personal situation, or, conversely, made a personal situation harder than it should have been?
9. On page 147, Lulu says men have defined her mom’s life—and still do. Why might she say this? Men play a noticeably smaller role in this novel than they do in many of Gibson’s other novels, but how do you see them operating in the background here?
10. Lulu the Love Guru teaches that rules and boundaries are the key to finding true love with the right partner. How does Simon break these rules and boundaries and what does this teach Lulu?