The many challenges of life as a carer now and in the past

The Fragments of my Father by Sam Mills is an unusual memoir in that the author takes her own experience and then looks for parallels in the literary world. The author is now the sole carer for her father since the death of her mother. Since childhood her father has been a mysterious figure in her life, often disappearing for periods. It was only in adulthood that she understood that he has severe mental health problems which have been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia.  

The book is honest about what impact her father’s illness had on the author and her family when she was growing up and how it affected her own behaviour and her continual search for a competent father figure in her life. She also shares her experience as a carer for her father and doesn’t hesitate to point out how hard it is and what little support is available for her and other people in the same situation.

The book looks at two famous literary couples when one cared for the other because of their mental health issues and tries to find lessons from what happened. Leonard Woolf cared for his wife Virginia for many years up to her death. He sought to keep stress in her life to a minimum and micromanaged all details of her existence. Her friends thought he had too much control but she thought that he provided a safe environment for her to continue writing.

F Scott Fitzgerald cared for his wife Zelda during her illness. In fact, he found it tiring and thought that it got in the way of his writing so he had her committed to a home and then attempted to prevent her writing and publishing her own books. His attitude probably made her life harder.

I liked the mixture of the author’s story combined with those of other carers. I have nothing but admiration for her and the task she has taken on. I was moved by her description of the challenges she faces and also of the difficulty of knowing what the right thing to do is for her father at any given time. I thought that the inclusion of the literary examples made this book richer.

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