Early on in her memoir Embracing What Remains, Andrea Couture describes her father—at the time a physician navigating his own retirement party—as “a man who had changed people’s lives, saved them, and led a team of proud and energized people.” At the event, Couture hears her father’s colleagues, friends, and even former patients describe him as not only a brilliant practitioner and clinical leader, but as an empathetic one. She of course learned new things about her beloved father that day, but the words of each speaker seemed to mostly reinforce what she already knew about him. Andrea is excited to spend more time with her father now that his career has come to a close and he and his mother make the decision to move closer to her.
Unfortunately, Andrea’s father Richard—known as Dr. G to many throughout his career—soon begins to display warning signs of memory impairment following his retirement from medicine. His eventual Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis comes less than two years into his retirement. Her father’s diagnosis stuns Andrea’s entire family, which includes her mother and the two sisters.
What follows is an honest account of how Andrea and her family work through their patriarch’s Alzheimer’s disease progression. The memoir truly is a caregiving memoir, as Andrea officially becomes a member of the sandwich generation; thrust into the responsibilities of helping care for her father’s needs while raising three young children of her own. Couture expertly conveys her own perspective in addition to how the disease takes a toll on her father, her mother, and even her own young children, who also struggle with coming to grips with their grandfather’s condition.
As her father’s cognitive decline worsens, the author describes so many situations and emotions that will resonate with readers familiar with the subject matter. Current and former caregivers are sure to see their own experiences in accounts of doctor’s appointments, family discussions, her father’s gradual loss of independence, and changing family dynamics as care needs increase. As the story progresses and she becomes a long-distance caregiver, the author expresses how she wanted to connect with others like her– those of a similar age who also had a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
Couture also writes of her relief when she learns that a skilled nursing facility near her home hosts a caregiver support group, seemingly giving her the cathartic opportunity to finally share her thoughts and emotions about her caregiving experience with an audience outside of her own family. While the COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from physically attending a support group meeting, her efforts to find a viable outlet proved to be energizing. Moving forward, she was steadfast in her search to find healthy ways to cope and release the stress and tension she was experiencing. Readers are sure to see parallels from their own caregiving journeys and, hopefully, recognize the importance of finding productive ways to address their own emotional needs.
Most of all, Embracing What Remains shows how Couture does exactly that: by articulating the love and respect she has for her father while honoring both the man that he was and the person for whom her family continues to love and care. This caregiving memoir is a heartbreaking account of how a daughter deals with her father slowly slipping away to a disease he is afflicted with much too early in life. The book both honors her father’s legacy and illustrates how caregivers’ relationships with their loved one can evolve in positive, transformative ways.