It turns out cartoon illustration is a surprisingly powerful way to describe end-of-life decisions. But still sobering content to wade through. Awarded four stars on Goodreads. National Book Award Finalist.
Using her own very creative cartoons and straightforward first-person account, author and illustrator Roz Chast (staff cartoonist at The New Yorker Magazine) recounts the story of her parents’ slow decline and the growing role of caretaker she is forced to assume as their only child. Though sprinkled with lots of humor, for me, this was nevertheless a sad read.
At the beginning, her parents are self-sufficient and highly functioning (if a tad co-dependent), living independently in the same apartment in Brooklyn they have occupied for decades. The book then walks us through the end-of-life decisions so many of us will face. Not just with our parents but eventually for ourselves. How do you convince loved ones to face what’s ahead? When is it the right time to leave one’s own home? What happens to all years of accumulated stuff? How does one find a reasonable place where more assistance is available. And then what happens when EVEN MORE assistance becomes necessary? Then, when health begins to decline or dementia sets in, how much treatment is reasonable? And what kinds of medical risks should you expose someone in their 90s to? And Chast must face each question, while living several hours away from her parents and having her own career and family to juggle.
Chast did not have close relationships with either parent and a particularly contentious one with her mother. Yet another layer. She honestly shares the psychological baggage that comes with her role as parental caretaker. It’s a mix of feelings — understandable concern, perpetual annoyance, and deep resentment.
End-of-life care in the United States can be an expensive proposition and Chast is clear about her mounting financial concerns as her parents linger over years. It’s probably clear by now why I found so many aspects of the book chilling. A big part of me, like Chast’s parents, kept thinking “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?”
It’s is a quick read, only 230-ish pages, and filled with illustrations. So just a couple of hours. And a good introduction to begin understanding the complexities of aging.