Ursula Hanks, in her memoir entitled In My Heart, gives a frank account of what she and her parents faced together in the last two years of her parents’ lives. It is a sobering reminder that even someone as willing to take in their parents as Hanks was is never really prepared for the reality of the situation. It is also a reminder that the experience, difficult as it may be, can result in some of the fondest memories a child will be left with at the passing of her parents.
Hanks admits that when her father announced that he and her mother were ready to move in with her the first emotion she felt was fear, fear of the unknown. Could she do this? Was she physically and emotionally capable of providing her parents with the kind of care demanded by their age and health? Her mother was already suffering the effects of Alzheimer’s, and the exhausting around-the-clock care she required was what had convinced Hanks’ father that the two of them could no longer live alone.
Hanks was lucky to have a supportive husband who believes in the sanctity of family and friends, a man who wholeheartedly supported her decision to bring her parents into their home during their last years of life. Hanks found, however, that even two men who respected each other as much as her father and husband did would argue frequently when forced to spend so much time together, something that for a while drove her to distraction.
In My Heart is not sugarcoated. It is an honest account of what happened when Hanks suddenly found herself living with her aging parents every day. There were good times and there were bad times. The beauty of her message is that the experience made the four of them closer than they would ever have been otherwise. Hanks was able to have intimate conversations with her father during which he offered more details about his World War II experiences as a German soldier than he had been willing to share with her during her entire lifetime. She was able to be with her mother every day, just as she had been while growing up and, despite her mother’s continuing slippage into Alzheimer’s merciless grip, the times they spent alone together were moments she still treasures.
In My Heart comes in at barely 100 pages but it has a lot to offer to those who are wondering how they can possibly cope with the needs of their own aging parents. It may be the personal story of one remarkable family, but it proves just what can be achieved when one’s love of family is put to the ultimate test. It offers hope to the rest of us.
Rated at: 4.0