Review by Donna Meredith
In Wait Until Tomorrow, Pat MacEnulty drifts back and forth in time to reveal a full, sometimes troubled, and ultimately rewarding relationship with her mother. Just as Rosalind MacEnulty’s love remains steadfast through Pat’s teenage drug addictions and stint in prison, Pat cares for her mother through years of declining health.
Because Pat dishes up memories of her mother as a gifted musician and composer, readers come to know Rosalind MacEnulty as so much more than a woman decimated by age. We see the vibrant being inside that failing body: a woman who resists being shut out of life and the joy that music brings to her audience.
This literary memoir, published in 2011 by the Feminist Press, is divided into segments with titles reflecting Rosalind’s life in musical terms: “Prelude,” “Interlude,” “Variations on a Theme,” “Anthem,” and “Song Before Sunrise.” Excerpts from An American Requiem, a piece of music Rosalind composed as a memorial for two young men who died in separate accidents, serve as epigraphs throughout the memoir. The requiem stands as beautiful poetry on its own:
Remember thy servant, O Lord.
He was not ready to leave us,
Nor were we ready to see him go.
The dark scissors of death have separated us.
He accepted danger. Its strong and shining thread
Led him from this tangled maze.
The memoir begins with Pat attending a performance of Rosalind’s requiem at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Jacksonville. The story comes full circle a quarter of a century later as Pat and her brothers arrange to have her Requiem performed there one more time. It is a gift of love that brings Rosalind one night’s reprieve from the torments of a foggy mind and embattled body.
For years Pat negotiates with her mother’s health care providers, manages medical treatment, and agonizes over the financial struggles associated with an aging parent. A major strength of the memoir is the author’s refusal to sugarcoat the harsh realities caregivers face. She talks unflinchingly about adult diapers, messy bottoms, and bowels that no longer function. She lays out for all to see the painful days when she was mean, cranky, and sleep-deprived right beside the loving evenings of playing Scrabble with her mother so she wouldn’t be lonely. Her honesty prevents the story from becoming saccharine or self-serving in any way. It will appeal to caretakers everywhere, who must always fall short of the perfection and devotion they wish they were capable of. The honesty grants permission to forgive ourselves for our imperfections.
Pat acknowledges that her daughter Emmy and her husband often didn’t get a fair share of her time and energy while she provided for her mother’s care. Still, she makes plenty of sacrifices for Emmy too. There are financial sacrifices to make sure Emmy is in good schools. There are time sacrifices, attending school events and providing transportation. And the biggest show of love of all: backing her daughter’s choice to follow her heart’s desire and study theater. The reader feels a completed circle of unconditional love as it is passed to the next generation.
In many regards, this memoir provides the same elements as the best fiction: just when you think things couldn’t get any worse for the central character, they do. But this is real life, one so many women are living today as they juggle jobs while serving as caregivers, wives, and mothers. Though it’s all so overwhelming and exhausting, women like the author do the impossible because it must be done.
MacEnulty weaves together threads of memory in almost dreamlike fashion. The memoir is a testament to her storytelling gifts and mastery of lyrical language. Above all, it stands as her requiem for her mother, composed of words rather than musical notes, and whether the author intended it or not, a revelation of her own tender, strong, and beautiful soul.
MacEnulty is the author of four novels, including Sweet Fire, Time to Say Goodbye, From May to December, and Picara. Her gritty fiction explores drug addiction, cancer, prison rehabilitation, theater, and music. She also has a short story collection, The Language of Sharks.
She grew up in Florida and attended Florida State University. Today she lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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