I am old enough to wish that I could forget certain parts of my life. Old enough to grieve certain losses, to mourn the demise of unfulfilled dreams, and to lament life’s inescapable disappointments. But what if the erasure of someone’s life is due not to avoidance but to a failing memory? Such is the case in Linda MacKillop’s thought provoking debut novel, The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon, which releases this week.
Seventy-five and struggling with dementia, Eva Gordon wants to escape from the care of her granddaughter, Breezy, and return to her former life in Cape Cod. Over the course of the story, she slowly reveals the losses and broken relationships that have led her to a bitter, lonely life. When Breezy gets married, she and her husband, Ian, invite Eva to live with them at Try Again Farm. All does not go well, but through the events that unfold, Eva begins to make peace with her past and to accept her new life while letting go of the things that she can no longer hold on to.
MacKillop, who lives outside Chicago but spent time in New England, said that the inspiration for the novel came from having known difficult people and wanting to explore how some people can be difficult and abrasive, but also vulnerable and lovable. “I also wanted to look at the reasons people push other people away with their behavior,” she said. “What in their story caused them to do this? It gives us compassion for even difficult people if we can understand someone’s behavior in light of their backstory.”
The book, published by Kregel, underscores the dignity and need for autonomy of someone who is no longer able to live independently while highlighting the importance of intergenerational relationships. MacKillop said that she chose to write about an older character because of how close she was to her own grandparents, who played a major role in her life. People who are older need younger people in their lives, she said. And those who are young need older people.
According to the US Census Bureau, Maine ranks first in the nation for the highest proportion of adults aged 65 and older, which is one reason I enjoy living here. I cherish the stories, experiences, and wisdom of those who’ve lived before me, like Hildegard, the retired preschool teacher who marched up my steps when my children were all young to drop by the biggest basket of Lincoln Logs I’ve ever seen. And Joan, who wrapped her arms around me when I lost my own mother and hasn’t let go. And Josephine, my husband’s grandmother, who always stocked the freezer full of ice-cream for my kids while she shared her life stories.
“I will be your God throughout your lifetime,” the prophet Isaiah writes of God (Isaiah 46:4), “until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.”
One way that God shows his care for older individuals is through us. As MacKillop’s book gently shows, we all need each other.
Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the award-winning memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Best Birthday and four other books celebrating the holidays with activities that build children’s faith.