A waltz at a funeral
A hernia the size of Guernsey
Heartbreaking and darkly comic, these are the moments that litter the messy road from cared-for to carer, a journey that Robyn Hollingworth finds herself on when she’s only twenty-five years old.
Leaving London to return home to rural South Wales, Robyn finds that it’s her old life – same teddy bears resting on her pillow, their bodies tucked under the duvet; same view of the garages behind which she’d had her first cigarette and first kiss – but so much has changed.
Her dad, the proud, charmingly intelligent, self-made man who made people laugh, is in the grip of early onset Alzheimer’s. His brilliant mind, which saw him building power stations and literally bringing light into the lives of others, has succumbed to darkness.
As Robyn settles back in the rhythms of life in the rain-soaked vast Welsh valleys, she keeps a diary charting her journey as the dad she knew disappears before her eyes. Lyrical, poignant and with flashes of brilliant humour, My Mad Dad explores how in helping others we can heal ourselves.
‘At some point the cared for become the carers…this isn’t a shame and it isn’t a tragedy and it isn’t a chore. It is an honour. To be able to return the gift of love that someone bestows upon you is a gift in itself. This is a story of caring…’
*Thank you to Netgalley and Trapeze for the ARC which I have reviewed voluntarily*
What does TWG think?
I’ll be honest (when am I not?); I have no idea where to start with my review of ‘My Mad Dad’. I’m not struggling with my words because I disliked the book, not at all. In fact I feel the complete opposite – I adored it. Move over Catwoman, Batwoman and whoever else Marvel have womanised, there’s a new superhero in town, and she goes by the name of SuperRobynHollingworth!! I’m not even exaggerating. ‘My Mad Dad’ moved me to tears more than once. I would have done anything to give Robyn a big, big hug. Not to make her feel bad or anything, but the tears weren’t dripping out of my eyes because of the type of sadness you feel when you stub your toe or you watch a video on Facebook with a dog in it, they were water falling out of my eyes because I was utterly heartbroken and it wasn’t even me going through it.
When it comes to reviewing non-fiction/memoir type novels, I always say that I will review the book purely based on the content as non-fiction books can be written in a different manner to fictional novels. However, I am breaking my rule with this book as I thought the way Robyn told her story was incredible. Not only did she manage to convey her thoughts in a structured manner, ensuring that her readers aren’t confused by any medical jargon throughout the book, but she also wrote it as though she was sitting with one person and talking to them face to face. There were no airs and graces, no pregnant pauses or fake emotion, Robyn seemed to keep it real.
‘My Mad Dad’ tells the story of Robyn’s dads diagnosis with Alzheimer’s and how that one word changed not only his life, but his family’s as well. Whilst that topic is the main focus of this book, Robyn has also written about many other emotional events around the time of the diagnosis. I won’t give anything away, but I wasn’t prepared at all for my eyes were digesting. How one person can not only deal with caring for her father, but also come to terms with the permanent disappearance of something or someone else, is astounding. There were times throughout the book where Robyn admitted that this wasn’t what she signed up for at the age of twenty five, whilst also making it clear that she found it incredibly difficult at times, yet she still did what she did out of love for her family. What caught me a lot was how Robyn didn’t believe just how incredibly special she is, stating that a lot of other people’s lives are worse than hers, or that people go through worse things than her. Of course, everyone thinks that when they’re dealing with tough events because it becomes a barrier for what emotions we have left, yet if you look at the bigger picture on that thought, it’s clear that we end up devaluing our own actions when in fact we have been to hell and back. That is what I thought about what Robyn said. Maybe it’s because I am an outsider looking in at her past, seeing things that only someone who isn’t directly involved in the situation can see, I don’t know. What I do know is, is that Robyn went through utter hell, emotionally and physically, as she watched her beloved father disappear before her very eyes. Gone were his sarcastic one liners and high intelligence, instead being replaced by a man who was no longer sure of anything, even his own daughter.
I know that I have mentioned how Robyn went through hell, many times, but please don’t think that I am disregarding her other family members who endured severe pain at the time too. I cannot even begin to imagine how her father felt as he watched himself fall into an uncertain state. Or how Robyn’s mother felt when she ended up enduring her own fair share of heartache and devastation. Or even Robyn’s brother, the only person at that time who knew what Robyn was thinking, without even saying anything, fighting his own grief yet still protecting his sister. I mean, just wow.
‘My Mad Dad’ is a raw, poignant, emotional, inspirational, and relatable read which completely blew my mind in every direction. Even whilst writing scenes which would bring a stone to tears, Robyn was still able to find a piece of humour to hold onto. I sometimes felt bad that I was creased with laughter despite sobbing my heart out five minutes previous. Robyn has an incredible way of getting her message across as though it’s the most natural thing in the world. Because it is. This is her message, this is her life and having seen the devastation first hand, this is natural to Robyn.
I cried like a baby in the foetus position, laughed like a hyena, and increased my knowledge a lot quicker reading this book than if I had consulted my best bud, Google. Personally, ‘My Mad Dad’ is a book which I think every single person on this planet should read, even if they haven’t been directly affected by Alzheimer’s.
I need to stop rabbiting on now as I feel like the waterfall is ready to get going again. I will leave you with this though; sometimes in life we find ourselves in a dark tunnel without any light to guide our way and, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t matter how long we stay in that tunnel or whether we get told that we ‘should be out of it by now’, as long as we manage to find the way at some point, we are winning at life without even realising it. And, Robyn Hollingworth is winning a life for having the courage to get her thoughts out on paper, even if they weren’t all rainbows and sunbeams. She is an inspiration in every form possible, and this book is truly outstanding.