by J. Keith McMullin
This is a story about an unlikely middle son and health care professional who extended his hand to help his mother in the slow motion catastrophe called Alzheimer’s. It encompasses all that caregiving involves, including the absurd and hilarious aspects. For instance, my Southern mother’s personal mantra was “fashion is always first.”
But women dealing with the confusion of dementia can manage and keep track of just one pocketbook. Just one. It became my job to work with Miss Mary to go through some hundred pocketbooks in the cedar closet, bags collected over a lifetime of shopping. She could keep only one. No matter how fabulous the crocodile clutch, it had to go. Welcome to caregiving.
But this isn’t just a story about a genius who lost her mind and died of Alzheimer’s. This isn’t just a story of irony about a health care professional unable to heal his mother. This isn’t just a how-to-book about how to take care of a senior with dementia. This isn’t just a comedy sketch like something off of “I Love Lucy” featuring the crazy antics of a son helping his mother after she failed the first test in her life, the driving test for seniors. No, this isn’t just a story about an unlikely middle son becoming a caregiver.
The true story is, I’m not her son. I was born to a young student at University of Richmond who could not care for me or keep me. As a newborn baby in my hour of need, Miss Mary chose to extend her hand and adopt me. And likewise, in her time of need with Alzheimer’s, I extended my hand to help her.
She did not have me as her son. She made me her son. This is really a story about why. Why do you help someone in need? At heart, it is a love story.
“A heartfelt depiction of one family’s journey through Alzheimer’s disease, filled with many practical tips to make things better.”
– Peter V. Rabins, MD, MPH, author of The 36-Hour Day and founding director of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
“Miss Mary nearly charmed herself out of Alzheimer’s, or as Keith McMullin says, Oldzheimerz. Near the end, he asks: “How much of life turns on a whisper, such as ‘I love you’ or ‘Good-bye?'” I typed and printed this sentence. It sits on my desk as a poignant reminder to pay attention to the ones I love.” – Rosemary Rawlins, author of Learning by Accident: A Caregiver’s True Story of Fear, Family, and Hope
“Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease and one I know first-hand as a nurse and daughter. Between the tears and laughs, Missing Mary achieves the right balance to help caregivers and loved ones deal with their newfound reality.” – Francine Barr, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, CEO of St. Mary’s Hospital, Bon Secours Health System
“As only a Southern storyteller could do, McMullin masterfully combines the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s disease with laugh-out-loud entertainment and practical insights. Missing Mary is a must-read for caregivers.” – Tom Edwards, designer for Spotify
Book Discussion Guide
“Make mine a double, Pussycat.”
Miss Mary—brilliant mathematician, former college professor and champion athlete—had the grace of a Southern lady. She was able to charm anyone who crossed her path, except for her doctor. He called her son to insist she could no longer live alone. Miss Mary’s latest little “spell”—a fall—was not the result of her spectator pumps, but likely Alzheimer’s dementia.
- Keith McMullin’s odyssey of caregiving begins with hilarious scenes of organizing “Bills & Pills,” and continues with the frustrating daily realities of dealing with elder lawyers, family dynamics, and the overwhelming pressures of caregiving while working fulltime in corporate America. Alzheimer’s would erase Miss Mary’s genius, her memory, and finally her life.
Health care executive McMullin stumbles through each step—and misstep—with humor and insight in a memoir offering a reminder that when life hands you lemons? Rim your martini glass with it and make it a double. Destined to make readers laugh out loud and cry . . . and ultimately cheer on the human spirit. A must-read guidebook for caregivers who are in an ever-expanding “club.” One they never asked to join, but one in which they find themselves members nonetheless.
Want to discuss Missing Mary with your book club or organization? Here are some questions to get you started:
- Is there a history of Alzheimer’s dementia in your family? Do you have a strong memory of a loved-one with the disease?
- One of the most frequently asked questions of caregivers with a family history is, “Do you fear getting Alzheimer’s?” How have you personally responded to that fear?
- A theme in Missing Mary is role-reversals. In the South in the 1960s, teaching math at the college level was typically a “man’s job.” And in the South, caregiving for your parent was typically “woman’s work.” Is caregiving asking you to break a stereotype? How so? Are there challenges or pressures you feel with a role-reversal?
- Caregiving can come with experiences that feel surreal, absurd, hilarious. Share a time when you thought to yourself, “Where are the cameras? I must be in a reality TV show. This is not my life.”
- Is there a time that comes to mind when caregiving, whether for a senior or a family member, took you out of your comfort zone and asked you to do something that was beyond the borders of your skill-set? How did you get the task done?