Saturday, May 30, 2015

Nothing easy about it

In addition to Ai-Jen Poo's The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America which I wrote up yesterday, I've also been taking in another wise book about aging in this society and, in particular, the horrors of life in the "sandwich generation." Roz Chast, the wonderful New Yorker cartoonist, has given us Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir.

The decline, decay and deaths of Chast's parents had nothing easy about the process. They survived well into their nineties, and never got to a place in which they could have a realistic conversation about their situation. Dementia out ran them. Chast was left to cope as best she could with old age marked by successive emergencies and bumpy declines, none much planned for, nor much cushioned by reliable help from others or institutions.

I could identify with lots of Chast's story. Like Chast, I am an only child; my parents were a decade older than the parents of my age peers; their cultural and social assumptions often seemed to me to come from an alien planet; they lived in the same house for 50 years collecting oddments; and they did not look to medicine to help. However I had a huge advantage over Chast: my parents may have found me an implausible daughter, but they never tore me down. They were good at accepting that what is, is. This is a helpful attitude as we age.

I'm not going to try to summarize anything about Chast's very special cartoon and text creation, though I will say that the book's only character outside the painful parent/child relationship is a professional caregiver of the sort Ai-Jen Poo works with. She breaks through to a dying elder when her daughter can't.

Read it; it is even available for Kindle. (I got it from the library which involved waiting a year till I got to the top of the wait list. This was worth it.)

Here's a teaser -- Chast's pleasant fantasy of what we could wish would be there for elders in hospice when we get close to the end:

I wish that, at the end of life, when things were truly "done," there was something to look forward to. Something more pleasure-oriented. Perhaps opium or heroin. So you become addicted. So what? All-you-can-eat ice cream parlors for the extremely aged. Big art picture books and music. EXTREME palliative care, for when you've had it with everything else: the x-rays, the MRIs, the boring food, and the pills that don't do anything at all. Would that be so bad?


Sandra de Helen said...

This was one of my favorite books last year. I'm such a huge Roz Chast fan anyway, and to find her writing about this topic? priceless. And you know she hooks rugs, right? what I wouldn't give for one of those! oy!

Michael Strickland said...

Saw part of this series in The New Yorker and was enchanted/horrified. Love your excerpt.

Hattie said...

We have been through it all with Terry' s parents and mine. What you say about your parents not putting you down is important. I never really thought about it before,but we gave the best care to the parents who had respected us. It won't be long before we may need the good will of our children. I humbly hope they will help us.

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