May 19, 2014

The Comic Side

When I was growing up, my mother taught me that comic books were junk; they were not “real” books; they were worse than worthless. So I didn’t read any comic books, and as an adult, I never read any graphic novels.

Then I received a copy of Roz Chast’s memoir about the final years of her parents’ lives: Can’t we talk about something more pleasant? This book, written by a cartoonist for the New Yorker is astonishing. It manages to show the poignancy, the pain, and the supreme importance of just about all the challenges of life in the end zone. It’s impossible to capture the essence of this tour de force with just the words—the pictures do not merely illustrate the words, they complement them, enrich them, amplify them. But here are a few snippets, to whet your appetite:

On the tight bond between a man and woman who have lived together for over 60 years:
Narrator—“They were a tight little unit”
Mother—“Co-dependent? Of course we’re co-dependent!”
Father—“Thank God!”

Dealing with increasing impairment:
Daughter—“Mom! Listen to me. You can’t drive with one eye. You have no depth perception.”
Mother—“Not a problem. Daddy guided me.”

On advance care planning:
Daughter--“My mother’s line had always been: ‘I don’t want to be a pulsating piece of protoplasm.”

Early dementia:
Narrator—“One of the worst parts of [dementia] must be that you have to get terrible news over and over again. On the other hand, maybe in between the times of knowing the bad news, you forget it and live as if everything was hunky-dory.”
Picture--Dad singing “oh what a beautiful morning” and practically skipping

Cleaning out her parents’ apartment when they move into an assisted living facility:
Daughter—“I was sick of the ransacking, the picking over and deciding, the dust, and not particularly interesting trips down memory lane.”
Picture: All the old stuff on an ice floe, going out to sea, with the daughter waving goodbye from the shore.

The social scene at assisted living:
Narrator—“You didn’t want to get stuck sitting with a Drooler [at dinner] or a soon-to-be Alzheimer’s person, who was holding onto her assisted living status by her last fingertip.”

Worrying about finances as the expenses mount up:
Daughter—“I felt like a disgusting person, worrying about the money. But it was hard not to, especially when I thought about what this ‘extra care’ might cost…”

The forms denial takes—when dad was dying:
Mother—“We have to get him some soup.”

The platitudes and terminology of end of life care:
Picture—Woman standing next to a big sign/blackboard with a pointer, drawing attention to the phrases “OK to let go; the work of dying; palliative care.”

The last phase of life:
Daughter—“My mother was existing in a state of suspended animation. She was not living and not dying. She didn’t watch TV, read, go outside, play the piano, socialize, or even get out of bed. She slept, drank Ensures, got cleaned by [an] aide, and went back to sleep.”

No comments: