Goodbye, Vitamin | Rachel Khong

Freshly disengaged from her fiance’ and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town, and arrives at her parents’ home to find family life more complicated than she’d realized.  Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory.  Her mother, like Ruth, is smarting from a betrayal.  But over the course of a year, the comedy in Ruth’s situation takes hold, gently transforming her grief.  

Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one’s footing in this life. 

Right this very minute, there are too many of us who know someone or love someone who is struggling with Alzheimer’s Dementia, like Ruth’s father.  I am included in this group, as my precious mother-in-law is struggling to retain what is left of her memory.  When I read the synopsis, I thought this book might make me cry.  It did not; rather, it made me laugh out loud at the sweet, poignant observations Ruth makes of not just her father, but of life in general.

 

I read: Alois Alzheimer was the senior physician at the Municipal Mental Asylum in Frankfurt when Frau Auguste Deter was admitted.  The year was 1901.  She was a fifty-one-year-old woman who was anxious and forgetful and, near the end of her life, behaved aggressively and unpredictably.  She died five years later.

Cutting Auguste’s brain open, Alois Alzheimer found abnormal protein deposits surrounding her nerve cells.  He called them plaques; neuritic or senile plaques.  He also found twisted fibers inside the cells: he called those tangles.  When plaques and tangles interfere with the normal function of brain cells, that’s what we know as Alzheimer’s.

……..

I wish they’d named it “Auguste’s”.  Because, “Alzheimer’s”? Really? When she was the one who’d suffered.  -p. 18

I’ll tell you right now that Alzheimer’s is just part of this story, which is a good reminder for those of us on this particular journey: though some days it consumes us, there is much else to take note of, to be blessed by, to appreciate while we are traveling.  I think you will appreciate the candor Ruth shares as she navigates her current situation, namely, being 30 years old, recently un-engaged, and struggling to find purpose in her life; not to mention the changes she sees in her father.

I can’t wait for you to read what Ruth and some of her father’s former students do to help her father, a beloved history professor, retain a sense of purpose – it is the absolute sweetest, though somewhat complicated, scheme ever!

Another very tender part of this story are the pieces of paper Ruth’s father leaves for her around the house; paper on which he wrote down, when Ruth was a child, clever and interesting – and some hilarious – things that Ruth did or said.  I got all choked up as later in the book Ruth begins to do the same for her dad – to write down for him things he says and does so that he can remember.

Today you held your open hand out and I shook the pills into it, same as every day.  Fish oil.  Magnesium.  Vitamins D and C and A.  Gingko biloba.  

“Hello, water,” you said, holding the glass against the moonlight and shaking the pills, like they were dice you were ready to roll, in your other hand.  “Goodbye, vitamin.”  -p. 172

This book is a quick, tender, and funny read that I hope will touch your heart and open your eyes.  You may learn a thing or two about grace and consideration of others, as Ruth did:

Lately, I’m more forgiving.  I used to be very quick to judge the old men who don’t know that when you walk past them on the sidewalk where they’re sweeping leaves, they should stop sweeping.  But now it occurs to me that maybe these old men have maladies – diseases that affect their manners – and should be pardoned.  -p. 73

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