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Vagabond and spiritual seeker, wife and mother and former labor organizer, Zilla Daniel led a full and varied life. But in the fall of 1988, troubled with the onset of Alzheimer's, she comes to Portland, Oregon, to live with her son and his wife. Evolving slowly into the unfamiliar, she watches the dogwood outside their kitchen window, reads poetry, asks and re-asks the names of birds.
Uneasy in his role as caregiver, and coping with his own depression, John Daniel struggles with guild, embarrassment, and anger over his mother's transformation. As she loses her memory, Daniel delves into his own, uncovering both the root of his depression and the medicine for its cure in fragmented, long-dormant recollections of his childhood and youth.
Mother and son journey through difficult and mysterious terrain, ultimately divining a path to each other. "Whatever she recognized, whatever she perceived, whatever she sensed, she faced the good world she had lovedů. The world flowed in through her window, flowed into her open eyes whatever they saw, even as she flowed forth to join the world from the personhood of her many days."
Combining graceful prose with the tenacity of a lifelong seeker, John Daniel pays tribute to the life of a remarkable woman and depicts the burdens and unexpected blessings of caring for her. In the midst of daily tension and occasional despair, Daniel comprehends—then shares with us—Zilla's "deep smile of the spirit."
Praise for Looking AfterRead the reviews.
"In his extraordinary exploration of memory and loss, John Daniel has found exact and lyrical words for what is almost impossible to put into words. He looks inward and outward with unfailing clarity, unfailing attention. This is a relentlessly heartbreaking and beautiful book."—Jane Hirshfield
"John Daniel writes of ultimate matters in elegant, powerful ways. Looking After is a vivid meditation on the uses we make of life, in the long run transcendent and utterly useful. A true beauty."—William Kittredge
"This extraordinary, lyrical book is more than the coda to a life well lived. It is also about Daniel learning to live in a world without his mother, and finding solace in the bonds forged between a mother and son during her difficult final years."—Renee Graham, The Boston Globe
"Looking After is about looking inward, a natural history of memory, candid and tender and brave."—Terry Tempest Williams
"John Daniel records a process of growth and learning, the gradual movement from a numbing fear of senseless extinction to an expansive redefinition of 'the doors of perception' . . . a hard-won joy and wisdom."—Denise Levertov
"A remarkable book. John Daniel learns to hold on to patience and love—but only hand in hand with impatience, remorse, and hard-edged grief."—Mary Oliver
"Daniel makes his peace in this brave and important memoir that opens an emotional path many readers will be grateful to follow."—Bart Schneider, Newsday
"This memoir is not only a tribute to the life of Daniel's mother but a tribute as well to the human spirit."—Pattiann Rogers
"Daniel finds moments of poetry in his mother's experience of Alzheimer's."—The Washington Post