The New Yorker magazine cartoonist Roz Chast’s Can’t we talk about something more PLEASANT? evoked a range of emotions as I absorbed her insightful, witty – but essentially sad – chronicle of her parents’ final years.
What Chast reveals is more than a description of her tortured web of (mostly negative) feelings for her mother; her sympathy for her dad; and more than a step-by-step dissection of her parents’ slide from independence…to assisted living…to nursing care…to hospice. In essence, she details her parents’ decline from a unique ‘only-child’ perspective.
Chast’s intensely graphic depiction of her parents’ agonizingly slow, and at times emotionally draining, transition is both touching and exasperating.
Her account begins with a visit to her parents’ Brooklyn apartment after a ten-year hiatus. Not “hipster Brooklyn,” she writes, but the “deep Brooklyn” made up of “people who have been left behind by everyone and everything.” A series of events (her mother’s fall, hospitalization for acute diverticulitis, followed by more falls, and her father’s senile dementia) punctuates Chast’s conversion from a reluctant and anxiety-ridden caregiver to a dedicated advocate-guardian. She eventually enrolls her parents in an assisted living residence near her Connecticut home. But the story doesn’t end there.
Portions of her tale aroused in me a few smiles: a description of the accumulated grime in her parents’ apartment, her father’s obsession with his bank books, or discovering a kitchen drawer full of jar lids as she set out to purge her parents’ apartment after they entered a continuing care residence.
Most of us have faced some of what Roz Chast experienced: her dad’s descent into dementia, her mother’s adamant denial of any need for support, having to divest her parents’ apartment of bags and bags of stuff, their move to a continuing care community, or her anxiety over whether her parents’ savings would pay for their assisted living care.
Yes, Roz Chast relates a truly cautionary tale. Her story is riveting and (at times) entertaining – perfect for your vacation book list. After reading it, think how well you’ve planned for your own and your loved ones’ future. I certainly did.
*Published by Bloomsbury USA, New York, 2014.
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