A Book Review: The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon by Linda MacKillop, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications (2022).
Old people often long to “go back home.” Home usually means a place where they were younger – and happier, at least in memory. Or where they lived with a spouse and young children. Or the most recent place where life felt free and meaningful. In my case it might be in Florida, where I grew up – or Washington, DC where I worked, retired and lived with my husband Jerry for nearly thirty years until he died.
I now live in Annapolis with my current husband, Jim. We’ve been here five years. It’s beginning to feel like home.
“Home” may not be a place, but a relationship. When my parents were alive and living in Florida, I’d talk about going home for Christmas, even if they were in a place I’d never lived. Home was where my parents were.
Home may also be a place of belonging. (“You’ve made me feel at home”). Or a place or situation where one feels at ease (She was at home in a kitchen).
For people of faith, “home” may be life after death. They sometimes speak of death as “going home” and a funeral as “a homegoing.”
The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon is a novel about a cranky old woman with dementia. She keeps running away from her granddaughter, Breezy, who in pity has taken her in. Eva is looking for home – in all its meanings, though she doesn’t realize it at first.
Author Linda MacKillop poses a profound question: When, if ever, is it too late to go home? Can one find belonging and redemption even after memory is gone?
Eva is trying to escape to a home on Cape Cod where she once lived. She also wants to re-live a time when her children were small and she was happily married. In spite of current forgetfulness, Eva recalls and regrets the mistreatment of her children that had driven them and her husband away. As adults, they’d all shunned her. Her husband is gone, her daughter is dead, and her son Rob lives in England. She has no words for it, but the “home” Eva really seeks is reconciliation and forgiveness.
This is also the story of Breezy, a young adult with a job and a boyfriend, Ian who has also taken in a solo uncle. She and Ian could be the patron saints of family caregivers. Anyone of any age would find life with Eva challenging. Eva is sour and ungrateful and needs to be watched every minute, but these young people are unfailingly kind.
Readers may find them too good to be true. I kept hoping Breezy would lose her temper and say something ugly but it never happens. She seems more relieved than angry when she scolds Eva for running away, breaking in, and taking up residence in a for-sale home before the police could discover her.
We watch Eva evolve with the help of a “babysitter” and neighbor who show her a better way. The sitter also allows Breezy and Ian to have more time together as they plan a wedding and move to Ian’s farm. Where, of course, Eva is welcome but doesn’t want to go.
Eva’s story explores the limits of redemption, which is, at bottom, a spiritual issue. Is it possible for Eva, who comes to recognize her own part in estrangement from her children and the failure of her marriage, to still be worthy of love?
And it also explores the limits of caregiving. According to www.caregiver.org in 2020 there were approximately 15.7 million family members caring for someone with dementia. This book gives a hint at the complexity of the task. What is the source of Breezy’s patience and love? What are realistic alternatives for us non-saintly folks?
This is a timely and encouraging read for caregivers and the ones they love.
Review by Carolyn Miller Parr, co-author of Love’s Way: Living Peacefully With Your Family as Your Parents Age. (Henderson Publishers, 2019).