Aging and Loss With Arms Wide Open

One of the most frightening things about growing older is the uncertainty: which terrible ailment(s) will I or my loved ones suffer with in their twilight years? Will my body be ravaged by time or will I lose my mind? Both? Neither, because I’ve planned on going out with a bang a la Secondhand Lions?

What a way to go.

I’ve witnessed the decline of several loved ones, and no two have been alike—and the effects each has had on the person’s circle of support has likewise been unique. The Wide Circumference of Love demonstrates this beautifully in a story about early-onset Alzheimer’s and the way each family member reacts to this uncertain present based on their past.

Diane Tate is a powerhouse, an ace defense attorney turned revered family court judge. Her husband, Gregory, is a groundbreaking architect whose fingerprints are all over Washington, D.C.’s skyline. And then, in his sixties, Gregory’s memory starts to fail him. The family tries to live life as normal but Gregory’s condition deteriorates to the point where they have to make tough choices.

The Wide Circumference of Love

Gregory goes to an assisted living center for memory patients, while his daughter, Lauren, tries to fill his shoes in the architecture firm he co-founded. His son, Sean, the black sheep of the family, tries to make amends but doesn’t know where to start. And Diane has to come to terms with the end of her life as she knows it, who her husband is now, and whether to live out her days lonely or do the unthinkable: move on.

I’m a sucker for generational drama and generational trauma. I love reading about how people take their upbringing or their family legacies and either overcome it or let it destroy them. The Wide Circumference of Love is all about overcoming and acceptance of the unavoidable vagaries of life even as it offers an unflinching look at how difficult they can be. Family is more than the people who live with you, it tells us, and love is more than embracing a person you care about.

One of the most impressive things about this book was how honest the character growth felt, despite the story squishing decades of story within a few hundred pages. The family is African-American, too, and the book gives a light but unsugar-coated glimpse of life in D.C. while black in the 70s through the present day. That glimpse through a totally foreign lens was eye-opening, and I’m grateful for it.

I think that’s one of the most powerful things reading can do. We each have only one life to live, one vantage point from which to judge it. Stories, real and imagined, can help broaden our worldview and give us understanding we could not have gotten any other way. And as we connect with them, as we find the parts of our life that click with the elements in someone else’s life or from someone else’s imagination, we become more empathetic. We become more whole.

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