|Published 6 May 2014.|
New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast focuses her talents on describing her parents' journey into late adulthood--their 90s. And it's not pretty.
The title of her book actually defers potential readers: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (2014).
So why read a graphic novel about the challenges of supporting frail parents?
UPDATE: Chast won the 2014 National Book Critic Circle Award for the autobiography category for this book.
Even if you aren't going to support parents or a spouse through this process, you will have friends going through some of the things that Chast draws and narrates.
But you won't have the exact same journey. Chast is the only child of parents who lived for decades in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
Her father, George, was gifted with language, but very bad at managing the physical world. And he suffered from a never-diagnosed anxiety disorder. His daily rituals could be limiting and very annoying to others. The challenges of aging, including dementia, just made him more fearful.
Her mother, Elizabeth, was a very strong-willed woman. She micromanaged everyone around her, especially George. And she had a bad temper and was unapologetic about it. She insisted that others adopt her version of reality, even when the facts contradicted her. She did not accept the limitations of her aging process and got herself into a few tough spots as a result.
Between these two eccentrics stands the author and only child, Roz. Because she lives an inconvenient distance from her parents, her ability to support them is compromised. Add to that Elizabeth's insistence that they don't need any help, and a tragicomedy ensues.
But even if your parents aren't Jewish, apartment dwelling, stubborn or struggling with dementia, you might still need to figure our their finances, their health care, their prescription medications and their options for "getting some help. " Hiring extra help might range from nonmedial home health aids, assisted living centers, nursing homes, private nurses or even hospice. Chast's memoir gives a dizzying tour of these and other senior services as the supporting cast members for her family drama.
But you could read about those services in a brochure distributed by your local Area Agency on Aging.
Why a graphic novel?
Chast offers what government-issued pamphlets cannot: the emotional roller coaster that adult children ride as their parents' independence becomes more and more threatened by the compounding problems of advanced age. You see her wrestle with the competing emotions of resentment, guilt, worry and love. She shows that the response isn't always clear but it's often urgent.
Reading her memoir won't be pretty, but sometimes it's laugh-out-loud funny at times anyway. That may sound horrible to admit that, but when life spins out of control, laughter is a good strategy to prevent you from losing your mind.
Special Exits: A Graphic Novel
Strong, Smart Women Wrestling with Caregiving
Movies about Older Adults Active in the Dying Process