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Did I Ever Tell You?: A Memoir

Review

Did I Ever Tell You?: A Memoir

Genevieve (Gwen) Kingston doesn’t really remember a time before her mother got sick. Diagnosed with breast cancer when Gwen was just three, Kristina tried to remain present for and with Gwen and her older brother, Jamie, as long as she could. She did, in fact, beat the odds the doctors had given her, surviving until Gwen was 11, despite increasingly dire prognoses and metastasizing cancer that spread to her bones and brain.

After her mother’s death, Gwen discovered that Kristina had left her an astonishing gift: a cardboard chest full of small gifts and letters, one for each birthday until the age of 30, as well as for major milestones like graduations and engagements. Gwen always knew that she loved her mother and that her mother cared for her. But these small tokens and increasingly candid letters allow Gwen to glimpse Kristina in the fullness of herself, not just in the context of her illness.

"DID I EVER TELL YOU? is a sad and sometimes painful memoir to read, but it also offers solace and an empathetic voice for readers who have contended with their own experiences of grief and loss."

As Gwen and Jamie grow up, and as their world continues to change in big and small ways, they are united by a shared experience of loss and becoming adults in the absence of their mother. It turns out, though, that Kristina’s is just the first of other losses and tragedies that Gwen and her family will have to bear. These subsequent events continue to shape Gwen’s understanding of grief, resilience, and what it means to sustain a marriage and build a family.

Gwen’s account extends through her 30th birthday as she comes to terms with what she hopes is a long life to come, now without that invisible tether connecting her to her mother’s memory. However, she realizes over time that Kristina’s legacy is contained in so much more than those small boxes and letters. She can continue understanding her mother --- and, by extension, herself --- through the stories shared by the people whose lives her mother touched, a circle much larger than she ever could have imagined two decades earlier.

Gwen’s memoir is achingly specific, full of honest and at times painful recollections of moments in her young life, including photographs of items from her mother’s boxes and transcriptions of many of the notes and letters. In some ways, though, her story is a heightened version of a process almost all of us go through, recognizing one’s parents as fully formed individuals separate from their children and, in Kristina’s case, separate from the illness that defined her for so many years.

DID I EVER TELL YOU? is a sad and sometimes painful memoir to read, but it also offers solace and an empathetic voice for readers who have contended with their own experiences of grief and loss. It is a powerful testament to a mother’s legacy and the importance of living a full and meaningful life, however long it may last.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on April 17, 2024

Did I Ever Tell You?: A Memoir
by Genevieve Kingston

  • Publication Date: April 16, 2024
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: S&S/Marysue Rucci Books
  • ISBN-10: 1668006294
  • ISBN-13: 9781668006290