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The Story of My Father: A Memoir by Sue…

The Story of My Father: A Memoir

by Sue Miller

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    Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler (fountainoverflows)
    fountainoverflows: Both books address the end of life of parents and the strain on adult care-giving children

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Alzheimer's journey perfectly described. ( )
  C-WHY | Jun 24, 2013 |
This is a deeply affecting account of a father's descent into the vacancy of Alzheimer's as recounted by his daughter, who in this case is the bestselling author, Sue Miller. I was initially attracted to the book because of her name, since I have read with great pleasure at least four of her books of fiction.

Miller recounts, in the Afterword, how difficult it was for her to write this book about her late father, and how many times she put it aside to pursue something else. But she continued to be drawn back to it over the years, seeing it perhaps as a kind of unfinished business that needed to be dealt with. Her mental health depended on it, and she also wanted to share her experiences with the last few years and death of her father in hopes that it might help others who have had to witness a beloved parent or relative succumb to Alzheimer's.

Miller also did her homework over the years to learn as much as she could about Alzheimer's and the latest research and findings on this terrible disease. The information she shares in this regard is exceptionally well chosen and relevant. But it seemed to me the best parts of the book were when she recounted memories of her father's life and her own. Her father, who was an historian, teacher and a scholar at the University of Chicago and then Princeton Theological Seminary was always a distant and somewhat detached man, making close relationships problematic. His more flamboyant and gregarious wife (who predeceased him from a sudden heart attack) had always been in charge and overshadowed him in many ways in their family, making a close relationship between Miller and her father difficult, until after her mother was gone. And by then Nichols was already beginning to show early signs of the disease that would finally kill him.

Miller obviously treasures the time she spent with her father, even the difficult and heartbreaking times near the end of his life. She wrote this book so that she would not forget those times - good and bad. In this respect her tribute to her father is reminiscent of another Alzheimer's memoir I read not long ago: In a Tangled Wood, by Joyce Dyer, which recounted her mother's struggle with the debilitating and deadly disease. Dyer noted near the end of her book how her friends urged her to take a trip, to get away after her mother had finally passed away and try to forget. But Dyer didn't. Instead she wrote the book and emphasized that she didn't ever want to forget a single thing that happened. It was her way of paying tribute to a mother who had, finally and tragically, forgotten everything.

I think perhaps Sue Miller was trying to do the same thing with The Story of My Father. In any case, she has certainly honored a father who continues to loom large in her inner landscape. If I have any complaints at all about this book it is that there is not enough about Miller herself. Perhaps that will come in another memoir at a later time. I hope so. In the meantime, I will highly recommend this book to anyone who has struggled with the specter of Alzheimer's in their family, as well as to fathers or daughters who continue to grapple with with that particularly puzzling relationship between a father and a daughter. This is a book worth reading. ( )
1 vote TimBazzett | Jun 24, 2010 |
I don't read a lot of memoirs, so I'm probably a poor person to review one. I don't know if this is good or bad, as the genre goes; but it was a compelling read, which I felt I wanted to stay up and finish.

It's hard to talk about "enjoying" a book like this. The prospect of oneself or a loved one developing Alzheimers is quite naturally terrifying to most people, I think. Certainly it is to me: my family history -- and therefore my likely gene-pool -- is loaded with the dread disease.

Miller gives us a picture of who her father was before Alzheimer's began to chip away at his identity: a respected church history scholar, a loving (though sometimes absent) father; a man of deep faith and conviction. She ponders when the disease started -- were there traits present long before the obvious? Was his personality shaped by a predisposition to the disease? Then she gently documents the details as his personality eroded and shattered bit by bit. She shares her confusion in how to respond to the disease and the situations it creates: she also expresses frustration with the lack of empathy and understanding for his condition among many of those "professionals" charged with his care.

For all the sadness involved, the book is fascinating to read. Alzheimer's progresses differently in different people, depending on the parts of the brain damaged; Miller's father developed hallucinations/delusions fairly early on, but maintained his recognition of his family and friends almost to the end -- though the ultimate course of the disease was cut short by another fatal physical illness caught too late, likely cancer.

Of course, Alzheimer's takes a terrible toll on all closely involved. Miller does not shy away from talking about her feelings, and her Afterword analyzes her motivations for writing the memoir in detail.

A fascinating, though very sad, book. ( )
3 vote tymfos | Jan 25, 2010 |
I 'read' this book from an audio book read by the author. The book is a memoir of her father's life as a scholar of Christianity but, above all, a story told of his old age years. A sad description of the destruction that Alzheimer brings to a fine person.
Sue Miller is very good at entering into the mechanichs of a relationship-altering illness.
She is as lost as any care-giver of this horrible illness. Do you play along with the demented stories and hallucinations? do you value keeping reality and truth above all? Is it better to concede to the fictional - and at times contented - life of a demented person or do you force reality on them?
The last chapter adds a deeper level of understanding to the father-daughter dynamics, and a sensitive insight into the writer's soul.
A book recommended to all those who have to cope with caring for a person stricken by Alzheimer's disease, but also a moving portrait of a daughter's love ( )
  inangulocumlibro | Jan 15, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345455444, Paperback)


In the fall of 1988, Sue Miller found herself caring for her father, James Nichols, once a truly vital man, as he succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease. Beginning an intensely personal journey, she recalls the bitter irony of watching this church historian wrestle with his increasingly befuddled notion of time and meaning. She details the struggles with doctors, her own choices, and the attempt to find a caring response to a disease whose special cruelty is to diminish the humanity of those it strikes. In luminous prose, Sue Miller has fashioned a compassionate inventory of two lives, a memoir destined to offer comfort to all sons and daughters struggling to make peace with their fathers and with themselves.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:12 -0400)

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"In the fall of 1988, Sue Miller found herself caring for her father as he slipped into the grasp of Alzheimer's disease. She was, she claims, perhaps the least constitutionally suited of all her siblings to be in the role in which she suddenly found herself, and in The Story of My Father she grapples with the haunting memories of those final months and the larger narrative of her father's life. With compassion, self-scrutiny, and an urgency born of her own yearning to rescue her father's memory from the disorder and oblivion that marked his dying and death, Sue Miller takes us on an intensely personal journey that becomes, by virtue of her enormous gifts of observation, perception, and literary precision, a universal story of fathers and daughters." "James Nichols was a fourth-generation minister, a retired professor from Princeton Theological Seminary. Sue Miller brings her father brilliantly to life in these pages - his religious faith, his endless patience with his children, his gaiety and willingness to delight in the ridiculous, his singular gifts as a listener, and the rituals of church life that stayed with him through his final days. She recalls the bitter irony of watching him, a church historian, wrestle with a disease that inexorably lays waste to notions of time, history, and meaning. She recounts her struggle with doctors, her deep ambivalence about many of her own choices, and the difficulty of finding, continually, the humane and moral response to a disease whose special cruelty it is to dissolve particularities and to diminish, in so many ways, the humanity of those it strikes. She reflects, unforgettably, on the variable nature of memory, the paradox of trying to weave a truthful narrative from the threads of a dissolving life. And she offers stunning insight into her own life as both a daughter and a writer, two roles that swell together here in a poignant meditation on the consolations of storytelling." "Sue Miller now gives us a inventory of two lives, in a memoir destined to offer comfort to all sons and daughters struggling - as we all eventually must - to make peace with their fathers and with themselves."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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