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All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's…

All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Alex Witchel

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8018148,805 (3.38)3
Title:All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments
Authors:Alex Witchel
Info:Riverhead Hardcover (2012), Hardcover, 224 pages

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All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments by Alex Witchel (2012)



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As a person who has a grandmother diagnosed with profound dementia and senile paranoia, I am constantly looking for information about elder care. It is both a comfort and upsetting to know that there are many others that struggle with this nightmare called dementia. Like the author, my grandmother’s dementia originated from several strokes, which caused permanent brain damage. This book is about the author’s struggle to accept her mother’s spiral decline into the world of memory loss and confusion. It is both a memoir of her life and her mother’s life. The author writes about her mother’s early signs of dementia and how she failed to accept her symptoms, but soon chose to embrace them head on to seek treatment.

This book was both a struggle and a challenge for me to read. In one aspect I can understand the emotional turmoil that the author felt when accepting the changes her mother went through. On the other hand, I found the book had very little to do with dementia and mostly focused on the author’s life. There was interesting historical information about her mother, which allowed us to see her mother as a child. However, it did not really do anything for me when it came to applying it too dementia. I have been struggling with profound dementia for 3 years with my grandmother. She has the kind that has turned combative and has required us to place her in a protective care environment. Upon reading this book I honestly believe that the author’s mother had the early stages of the disease when the book was written. I did not see any real episodes of dementia and those that were discussed were mild. I would consider this book to be more of a memoir about the author’s relationship with her mother. I just did not see enough information on dementia to justify the heading of the book. I believe the title needs to be changed. Either way, the author is still a talented writer and her book was very interesting. I wish her much luck in the future with both her sister and her mother! ( )
  Jennifer35k | May 23, 2014 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A good read about a a relationship between a mother and a daughter. It was a little difficult to get into at first, but after a while, I was emotionally invested. The book follows what happens as the Mother's health deteriorates, and is at times funny and at times heartbreaking. The asides about cooking and the recipes seemed to fit in in certain parts, and in others sort of distracted from the story. All in all it was a good read. ( )
  metermaid1 | Apr 25, 2014 |
A heartfelt book about a daughter, who was exceptionally close to her mother, and the mother who had sufffered a series of small strokes and whose memory was slowly eroding. Hoping to help her mother, who had always taken pride in how she took care of her family, she began to cook with her hoping to spark her old memories. Sad in parts, a very able woman slowly fading away and yet also very perceptive in reallizing that to help her mother she has to be willing to let her go. My mom is still alive, thank the lord, in reasonable health, but so much of this book reminded me of my mother and I that at time is was very eerie. ( )
  Beamis12 | Feb 13, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This little book captivated me. My own mother is in her late eighties, and, as it happens, her memory has changed and dimmed with life and age. However, she has forty years on me, and I have memory issues, too. I read books like "Where Did I Leave My Glasses" by Martha Weinman Lear and Nora Ephron's "I Remember Nothing". Alzheimer's runs in my family, so I am constantly reading about it and looking for signs and symptoms of its early onset, and preparing for it like it is inevitable.

So "All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia. With Refreshments" by Alex Witchel struck a chord, because it addresses the dementation of a particular woman, not quite as old as my mom, who went from being extremely competent and capable, to being largely mentally incapacitated in a very short time, and-- this being most important-- it was not due to Alzheimer's.

In fact, at the root of her dementia was a series of tiny strokes. The book explores the journey as mother and daughter learn about the damage, the prognosis, and the process of moving from competency to a new way of being. The set-up was the daughter, the author, learning to cook the old favorite foods for which the mother was responsible, even though her mother never prepared the recipes exactly as written, or the recipes weren't written at all.

Despite my own Jewish background, I was raised Catholic, and I have no experience of the foods of which Witchel speaks, so I didn't feel as "close" to the material as someone with a background similar to hers might. I didn't "smell" or "taste" the food as I read. Those parts did not particularly interest me. But the discourse between mother and daughter, watching the complicated relationship develop, evolve, change over time, was terribly interesting to me, even if the parties involved looked nothing like my family at first glance.

Although Witchel's mother declines throughout the book, I was very grateful that she ended before the "inevitable" conclusion; she stops writing before her mother stops living, or stops functioning. I was grateful because, through this book, I had grown to appreciate both the characters and their relationships, and although I knew that they would have to end, I was glad to be spared watching it happen.

This may not a work of great import, but I enjoyed it, and I'm not a bit sorry that I took the time to read it.
  kschloss | Nov 8, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
You count on your mom to always be there for you. Even when you're an adult, you count on her remaining the person who once upon a time tucked you in at night, kissed away boo-boos, made your favorite dinner for your birthday, and celebrated all your accomplishments small or large. But when that mom starts to disappear into the smothering fog of dementia, you have to mourn the loss of the bed-tucking, boo-boo-kissing, dinner-cooking, celebratory mom long before she is actually gone. Alex Witchel's brief memoir All Gone: A Memoir of My Mother's Dementia, With Refreshments chronicles the painful way in which an adult child has to say goodbye to the mom of memory long before time and the way in which, even though that mom is trapped inside the malfunctioning synapses of her own brain, Witchel can still keep her close in her heart and in her kitchen.

Written non-linearly, this memoir deals with the present day tasks of taking care of an aging and ill parent, memories of Witchel's childhood, and a few recipes that she remembers her mother cooking. While the three are connected, they are not necessarily integrated together well. Witchel's initial denial, sorrowful acceptance, and frustration with the disease claiming her mother's past, present, and even her very personality is presented honestly and bare of embellishment. The portion of the memoir dealing with the slow slide of her mother's disappearance into dementia is the most poignant, best written of the memoir. The portions of Witchel's childhood are occasionally instructive of her relationship with her mother but often that connection is hard to make and so the bouncing between childhood and the present can feel disjointed.

The third bit of the book, and one that I expected, given the subtitle, to take more precedence deals with Witchel cooking the recipes she remembers her mother making, finding comfort in the comfort food of their family. While we all have a visceral connection to the food of our childhood, it seemed an odd way for her to conjure up the mother of her youth given that her mother seemingly didn't like to cook. Her recipes feel as if they were all culled from newspaper columns or magazine aimed at the "new working woman" and the convenience that she would desire in facing dinnertime after putting in a full day at the office, not as if they were treasured family recipes. And often the recipes are plunked at the end of the chapters with little or no tie to the content of the chapter. As a concept, the connection of food with memories of childhood and the present reality of a mother shrouded in dementia is a natural one and there are moments when Witchel gets it right. Unfortunately, there were more moments for me where she doesn't quite get there. ( )
  whitreidtan | Oct 29, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159448791X, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:21 -0400)

Just past 70, Witchel's smart, adoring, ultracapable mother began to exhibit undeniable signs of dementia. But as medical reality undid hope, Witchel retreated to the kitchen to come to terms with her predicament.

(summary from another edition)

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