Wednesday, June 4, 2014

"Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?"

Roz Chast's new graphic memoir is very funny, very sad, and very honest.  It is getting great reviews and I have been recommending it to anyone with an aging parent--and there are many of us.
Chast's cartoon figures are recognizable to anyone who has ever picked up a New Yorker magazine.  They are frazzled looking and stressed and in this memoir, for good reasons.

Chast was the only daughter of two elderly parents, a domineering mother whose threats to "blow her top" had always frightened her and others and a mild mannered father who never learned to drive or use a credit card but tried to protect her from her mother's rages.  Chast could no longer keep her distance (literally--she didn't go back to their apartment for over ten years) when her parents reached their 90s and frailty and dementia set in at a faster pace.  Even they realized independent living was over when her mother fell and her dad went to get help but couldn't remember which apartment was his once he left without her.

This memoir is honest and heartbreaking and yet funny.  We see much of what Chast describes in our own aged mothers---the paranoia of hiding things under a pillow and then losing them, the inability to distinguish between dreams and reality, the increasing need for sleep and withdrawal.  The descriptions of assisted living door decor and the choosing of dinner partners (who wants to eat with a non-stop talker or someone who forgets to swallow?) were painfully familiar.

What kept me awake for a while the night I finished this book was the thought of this happening to me and to my husband.  How can we prevent this from happening?  If we live to be that old, is it inevitable to become frail and helpless and to fade away slowly?  Is the alternative to die faster and sooner?

 I try to put those thoughts away and try to live in a healthy way and pray for grace for the years that are left.

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