As her recent memories fade, Mary lives increasingly in the past — returning to the secrets of her turbulent interracial love story.
Coming to terms with advancing dementia, Mary has no choice other than to move into her daughter’s home. Her daughter, Kayla, caught between her cognitively impaired mother and her belligerent teenage son, soon finds caregiving is more challenging than she imagined. Sage, the family’s golden retriever, offers comfort and unconditional love, but she has her own problems, especially when it comes to dealing with Mary’s cat.
Throughout it all, Mary struggles to complete her final book — a memoir, the untold story of the love of her life, who died more than forty years earlier. Her confused and tangled tales span Trinidad, England, and Canada, revealing the secrets of a tragic interracial love story in the 1960s and ’70s. But with her writing skills slipping away, it’s a race against time.
Heartwarming, funny, and hopeful, Gone but Still Here is an honest, open look at the struggles of one family as they journey into the unknown.
About the author
Jennifer Dance was born in England and holds a B.Sc. in Agriculture and Animal Science from the University of the West Indies. She migrated to Canada in 1979. With family in the Native community, Jennifer has a passion for equality and justice for all people. Her first novel, Red Wolf, was endorsed by Giller Prize–winning author Joseph Boyden. An avid environmentalist, Jennifer lives on a small farm in Stouffville, Ontario.
Excerpt: Gone but Still Here (by (author) Jennifer Dance)
My name is Mary, and I have Alzheimer’s disease.
It makes me think of AA meetings I’ve seen in the movies: My name is so-and-so, and I’m an alcoholic. It’s an acknowledgement, a way of facing your problem. Writing this is an acknowledgement, too. A way of confronting the truth.
I’ve been telling myself that I’m just having a few memory lapses — part of normal aging. But I’m slipping away. I can feel it.
Losing logic and understanding.
Having to tell myself that red means stop, and green means go.
I’ve been trying to hide it. Hide from it. Ignore it. Make excuses. But one day I’ll be gone, even though I will still be here. It’s hard to accept. Hard to believe.
A living death. A dying life.
Will I know what’s happening?
I hope not.
I type the awful words again, my fingers hammering away at the truth while my brain denies it:
My name is Mary, and I have Alzheimer’s disease.
It sounds like someone else’s reality, but at the same time there’s a terrifying familiarity to it, like it’s the truth, yet a lie at the same time — a strange contradiction that I can’t figure out.
A memory flits in: I’m carrying pink rosebuds and walking down the aisle of an English country church. Keith is waiting for me, his face lit with a broad smile, tears glistening in his eyes. But then the rosebuds I’m carrying are blood red and I am walking down a different aisle, toward a coffin covered in a blue altar cloth. I shut my mind to the memories — it’s what I always do, taking myself to an empty space. It’s safer there.
I catch my vacant gaze reflected in the sleeping computer screen. I must phone my children. Oh God, will I forget their names one day? Will I forget who they are? The odds say yes. I speak their names aloud, picturing each face and mentally attaching a label to their foreheads, names written in bold, uppercase letters. ALICIA! ZACH! KAYLA! I order myself to embed them in my memory and to never let them go. Reality tells me that willpower alone cannot stop dementia, but all the same, I try as hard as I can. Alicia! She works for an aid organization in Africa. Zach! He manages a hedge fund, whatever that is. And Kayla! She travels the world singing jazz in fancy hotels. Although maybe she doesn’t do that, anymore. I forget.
My lower lip trembles. I hold on to it with my teeth, my mother’s words reverberating in my five-year-old head, “Nobody likes a crybaby.”
Another voice comes to me. “It’s okay, Sweetheart, I’m here.”
The joyful lilt brings happiness to my heart. It feels so real, as if Keith is beside me, whispering in my ear, but he’s gone. Long gone. I’m just hearing voices. It’s a symptom of Alzheimer’s.
Shit. I have Alzheimer’s disease. An incurable degenerative disease of the brain. I can’t grasp it, even though I speak the words. If I say them enough, maybe it will become easier. If I write them …
My name is Mary, and … I’m having a few memory lapses.
An incredibly honest and touching journey inside the mind of a woman with Alzheimer’s disease and the life-altering effects on her family … beautifully written.
Rebecca Wardlaw, MSW, RSW, social worker with the Alzheimer Society of York Region
In Gone but Still Here, Jennifer Dance deftly weaves multiple narratives in a compassionate and compelling portrayal of a woman with dementia and her loved ones. Drawing on her first-hand experience as a caregiver, Dance writes with authenticity about the challenges and rewards of caregiving, as well as the myriad ways in which illness can bring a family together — or tear it apart. While the difficulties of dementia and caregiving are treated with sympathy, a vivid sense of humour enlivens the story. Dance highlights precious moments of joy and laughter to brilliantly illuminate the type of deep, abiding love that transcends loss and shines through tears.
Anne Lipton, M.D., Ph.D., author of The Common Sense Guide to Dementia
Gone but Still Here is a remarkably touching book that illuminates the journey of Alzheimer’s disease. The story shares the struggles, fears, frustrations, and joys that accompany a family’s experience with dementia. Through it all, however, this book allows the reader to see the beauty of human existence, even as dementia changes everyone it touches.
Cathy Barrick, CEO, Alzheimer Society of Ontario
The novel does a beautiful job of portraying the joys and sorrows that follow from a life-altering diagnosis. Gone but Still Here is an emotional novel about a family faced with the challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's Disease.
Gone but Still Here beautifully tells the tale of a family who, in the face of Alzheimer’s disease, renews their passion for life … touching, compassionate and strong. I stayed up late, got up early, and read until I was done. Such an incredible story.
Anne Marie Duquette, author of Found at Sea
Dance introduces a mother and daughter, both struggling with the most difficult emotions life can bring and yet, at the same time, shows us the calmness and tenderness we hold for those we love. I know only too well the roller coaster ride of emotions that dementia brings into our lives, and Dance echoes the testimonials of so many conversations with families that I have had in my career. This is a story of loving and caring for someone you know so well, yet who has slipped away.
Janet Iwaszczenko, Executive Director, Long Term Care, Sienna Senior Living