Review: Forgetting May, by Helen Broadbridge
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
‘Forgetting May is not an easy book to read, because its main theme is one that is so prevalent all around us, and so badly talked about.’
*Trigger warnings for this book: dementia, loss*
Forgetting May is one of these books that's unlike anything else you've read before. The kind of reads that stays with you long after you put it down.
The book is a heartbreaking memoir, telling the true story of May's descent into dementia, from the point of view of her grand-daughter, Jen. It takes us on a journey, guiding us from flashbacks to scenes in more recents times, slowly piecing together the life of the woman May once was, and her family's experience of her condition.
Broadbridge's style is raw and real, in essence very factual. She says it how it is, without flourish or embellishment. Though it may not be to everyone's taste, it's the perfect tone for a story so delicate and a topic so intricate.
Forgetting May is not an easy book to read, because its main theme is one that is so prevalent all around us, and so badly talked about. For me, it rang a familiar bell, because as a child and teenager I witnessed my own great-grand-parents' battle with dementia and Alzheimer's. So much of it hit home, and I found myself wishing I'd had access to this book back then - because it talks of a more humane and decent way of dealing with people with these conditions, one that's kind and considerate.
It brings forth dilemmas most of us try hard not to think about until we absolutely have to. It poses difficult questions, for instance should we forego quality of life in favour of prolonging life duration? If so, should we ponder the point of living longer if it means later years are deprived of simple pleasures? How do care homes handle that dilemma?
The book is well-researched, it's honest and it deals with grief and loss in a disarmingly candid way. And we keep coming across these absolute pearls of observation, beautifully phrased sentences, acutely accurate realisations about the human experience and the world we live in. Tidbits that will make you pause and nod in agreement, and think there can't be a better way of putting it.
Some of my favourites:
'It was as if she could no longer see herself as a point on a map, approaching the horizon of her future, leaving behind a dotted path of everywhere she had been. She no longer moved on the world; she stayed in the middle and the world floated around her.'
'Having the best death means having the best life for as long as you can.'
'The world can be kind and cruel to cruel and kind alike.'
Forgetting May is an essential read, albeit it at times uncomfortable. And I guaranty the first thing you'll do when you put the book down is give your parents and grand-parents a call to tell them how much you appreciate them.