Stage and screen actress Kate Mulgrew grew up in Dubuque, Iowa and has been acting since her breakthrough role starring as Mary Ryan in the 1975 ABC soap opera Ryan’s Hope. Her second autobiography released in 2019. How To Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir, is both a heart-wrenching and heart-warming account of both her parent’s, father Thomas James (T.J.) and mother Joan, their lives and their deaths.
Kate Mulgrew’s large Irish-Catholic family included seven siblings, and with her father’s outgoing personality, the house was constantly filled with friends over for drinks and dancing. She writes about her family experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly. She explores in depth taking on a new role, that of caregiver to her parents.
Her father, T.J., died of lung cancer in 2003, and her mother Joan afflicted with the insidious Alzheimer’s disease since 1998, died in 2006 at the age of 78.
Caregiving for Parents
For families impacted by having loved one’s with afflicted with terminal illness, it is a challenge that supersedes most other challenges. Work schedules are altered, in some cases jobs are abandoned. Monetary losses can be overwhelming, as our current healthcare system does not fully cover all expenditures. As a caregiver, your life is put on hold, for as long as it takes with seemingly no end in sight.
Kate Mulgrew was performing in the stage play Tea For Five, a one-woman role playing Katherine Hepburn at two stages in here life: during her early career success, and later in life, as an older Hepburn deals with the effects of aging and impact to her acting career. It was during this time when she received word her father was quite ill. She decided to quit the production, almost unheard of for actors to step away from a popular project, and at the risk of negatively impacting her own career aspirations.
Her father T.J. was a very stubborn man, and being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he wanted no part of any treatment – no chemotherapy, no surgery, nothing. He died within three week’s of the initial diagnosis.
With her mother Joan diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years earlier in 1998, the house in Dubuque was accommodated to provide for her mother to be on one floor of their multi-level home. (In fact, this area was setup year’s earlier, when Kate’s younger sister Tess, died from brain cancer at the age of 14). Kate’s nanny for her children, Lucy, had agreed to take on the primary caregiving role for Kate’s mother.
Kate was often away from home working on various stage and screen projects during the years her sons were young. To care for her two sons, she hired a nanny named Lucy Ledezma. When Joan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Lucy graciously offered her services to help Kate and the Mulgrew family through this ordeal.
Lucy, who migrated from Mexico years earlier, was separated from her first true love back in Mexico. Kate saw to it to help Lucy reunite with Javier, and they were properly married at the local establishment at the old Dancer McDonald House in Dubuque.
Kate Mulgrew’s honest recounting about loss, betrayal, hurt and anger will speak to those who have been through similar experiences. Currently, 5.5 million Americans are afflicted. In thirty years, it is estimated more than 16 million American’s will have Alzheimer’s disease.
“Life’s so brief. We’re, at every juncture, staring mortality in the face. It’s the very least we can do if we think it will be of any interest or value, to share the past. And although mine’s been crooked, it’s also been splendid.” -Kate Mulgrew