Acclaimed actress Kate Mulgrew, best known for her roles as chef Galina “Red” Reznikov on Orange Is the New Black and the strong, intelligent Capt. Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, shares her loving and at times darkly funny caregiving journey in How to Forget: A Daughter's Memoir.
Told in two parts and flashing vividly between childhood and early adult memories and present-day drama, the book chronicles Mulgrew's return to her family home in Iowa as her father faces end-stage lung cancer and her mother battles Alzheimer's disease.
This was a lovely book — insightful, painful and at times humorous. What made you decide to write about your parents?
I think it needed to be written. I've asked myself these questions many times. It is not the book I intended to write on the heels of my first book [Born With Teeth] which was a more linear memoir. I thought I'd try to go for fiction or I'd write something else. It kept coming back to me — my father, my father, my father — something unresolved with my father. And it became a more elaborate explanation of my relationship with him. Then I just realized it was meant to be a tandem affair with the life and death of my mother and what afflicted them most, which was regret and forgetfulness.
When you learned your father was ill, you were touring in a one-woman production of Tea at Five, about Katharine Hepburn. You left the show to be with your dad, which was a pretty big deal.
There is an unspoken rule in the world of entertainment, particularly theater acting, that you simply do not take time off — even for death. And this time, I just said no. Nothing was worth it. And after this many years in the business, you know that any price you are going to pay is a far greater one if you don't go. I missed a lot of stuff when I did Star Trek. I was raising two young sons — and I missed it because I had to abide by the “rules.” It is all silliness. What are these rules? They don't mean anything.
As you arrived at the hospital, your father was being measured and marked for radiation treatment. With your intervention, he was made aware of his diagnosis and decided to eschew any treatments. Was that a hard decision for both of you?
It was hard decision for my brother Joe. It is not that my father had even capitulated [to the treatment]; he simply had let it happen. And my brother had allowed the doctor to take control. This is what happens, I think, when the patient, the sick person, the beloved, is not told. My father was a person of great personal integrity and he wanted to know. That is when the doctor came in, and I just said, “Tell him the truth. He deserves it."