Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Stranger in My Recliner: Book Review

Published 26 January 2016.
Fate brought Sophie into John McGettigan's path one day--quite literally.

When Sophie fell on the sidewalk in front of him, John recognized this small, octogenarian woman from their casual friendship as residents of the same town.  

At that time, Sophie had been living outside after losing permission to sleep in a basement of a meeting hall.  

Once John learned she was homeless, he drove Sophie home where his wife Doreen agreed that they should make a bed on the couch for Sophie. 

A night's refuge turned into a week, then a month. 

Somehow, Sophie ended up living with the McGettigans for over a year.  As a writer, Doreen worked through her thoughts and feelings about caring for Sophie by writing The Stranger in My Recliner


With a combination of pragmatics and tenderness, McGettigan worked to improve Sophie's physical, emotional and mental health.  

[I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.]

Finding social services proved to be a Herculean task.  Even establishing Sophie's family relationships and personal history was challenging.  Sophie struggled to maintain her meager finances, scant possessions and personal hygiene, which was very frustrating for neat-as-a-pin  McGettigan. 

Each time McGettigan thought she couldn't continue caring for Sophie, she would see a vulnerability, a strength or an insight from Sophie that melted her heart.  

In addition to relaying a compelling narrative about Sophie, McGettigan includes some research about the US policies for the homeless and the mentally ill. These passages help provide a context for the difficulties that many other people face in trying to survive, let alone thrive.  

McGettigan's book does a marvelous job personalizing the problem of homelessness, especially among mature women who are ill-equipped for their golden years.  Although the book contains a number of difficult and awkward scenarios, these situations are thought provoking.  They help move homelessness from out of the shadows. 

Related:

How We Age (a book by a geriatric psychiatrist)
Showering with Nana (a caregiver's journey)
Chast's Graphic Novel on Caregiving

15 comments:

  1. Karen, I am going to see if this one might be in our local library. I often wonder about people standing at the intersections of freeways begging. It seems that the social services are failing them and their families...or could it be they are building hurdles to keep some out?

    Aging women without any means because of choices they made earlier in life are around me in this RV resort. For us it is a very affordable second home...it is for them all they have. It is very sad.

    b+

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    1. The book just came out on Tuesday and your library should have no trouble ordering it.

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  2. I want to read this book. After skimming the post I thought, no way...most of us would be overwhelmed to bring an aging family member into our homes, let alone sharing our lives with a casual acquaintance. I was a foster mom, many years ago, but that seems small potatoes compared with caring for a senior citizen. It is rare to stumble upon heartwarming stories of modern day good samaritans, but the McGettigans seem to fit in that category as they have lived out the Golden Rule. I am anxious to read all the details!

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    1. It was compelling. I hope that you enjoy getting to know John, Doreen and Sophie.

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    2. Thank you so much Pam. I still have trouble at times believing I actually did this.

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  3. I've got a copy coming. It really does fascinate me when people live their beliefs so vividly. One in a million.

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    1. She was very kind to share her ambivalence. It was hard for her, but she rolled up her sleeves and pressed forward. (Obviously, it was even harder on Sophie, and Doreen makes that clear.)

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    2. Thank you so much Carol. I hope you like the story.

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  4. Of my , I will seek this out! A friend who has been homeless is back to being homeless and my feelings are so conflicting. He is 45 so not elderly like Sophie. Doreen is amazing!

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    1. I will keep your friend in my prayers. Homelessness can and often in a sad repeating cycle.

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  5. I've already ordered this. Can not wait to read. Hits close to home for me too.

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    1. Enjoy the vicarious experience of "living with" these three while reading.

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  6. I can't wait to read this. It's my next book in line to get and am excited to get it!

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  7. What a fascinating story. I will add it to my reading list! Can't wait to dive into it!

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