Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast is a book whose time has come. For me, anyway. This is a graphic novel for grown ups – way grown up – about a woman coping with her elderly parents end of life issues. This is a true life scenario that will repeat itself with alarming frequency as our Boomer Generation parents march off to their final battles. The title gives some insight into why we aren’t better prepared or more informed about how our parents wish to manage the difficult decisions that inevitably accompany the end of life.
It was a revelation and a comfort to me to see that Ms. Chast’s parents were so very similar to my own. How they resisted help and suggestions that might make a difficult situation easier. How everyday living became so fraught with danger – and the home management that seems so routine – paying bills, mowing the yard, etc. – becomes insurmountable obstacles that cause chaos and depression. The book is billed as humorous, but the situations didn’t seem so funny to me.
Roz’s parents lived to be in their 90’s and she chronicles their decline in a clear-eyed way. She includes her own ambivalence about her relationship with her mother and the uncomfortable guilt she felt about her own reluctance to step in and take an active role in their living conditions. We children are used to our parents calling the shots – being in control of, if not us anymore, at least of themselves. It’s psychological gymnastics as we reorient our perspectives to being the ones calling the shots for our parents.
I was cheered by the actual photos Roz included in her memoir of her parents’ apartment – the clutter was insane. For some reason every catalog, flyer and newspaper takes on outsize importance to some elderly parents. Perhaps printed matter from across the country keeps an ever-shrinking universe from collapsing totally? In any case, it’s a slog to sort through thousands of sheets of paper and receipts. My own recent experiences seemed much lighter when I considered that this may be a common practice by parents and chore shared by their adult children.
I recommended the book today to my Dad’s hospice nurse. I thought it might be helpful for him to see his business from the perspective of the offspring. I also recommend it to you. Anyone with parents and/or children. It will give you a gentle nudge to Please Have Those Conversations Now. Get that Will made, fill out those Power of Attorney, Advance Directives, and Living Will forms and share them with someone you trust. Nobody lives forever, not even you. Your forethought and planning may be the best gift you ever give your kids and ultimately, yourself.
~Terri Gibbs, Director of the Denton Public Library