Writer and Artist: Roz Chast
Roz Chast's graphic memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? addresses two of the most important topics we almost never talk about: aging and death. The author shares the stories of dealing with her aging parents, helping them through the various transitions from independence to assisted living and through to the very end. Chast is an only child so it's all on her.
The book isn't pretty or sweet. There's real pain and frustration at every stage. The relationships are complicated in all directions - child-to-parent, parent-to-child, spouse-to-spouse - and the life changes don't make them easier.
Chast's book hit me hard, harder than Fun Home did (see here). These are the life changes staring me in the face. My own parents are now in their 80s and starting, for the first time, to discuss next steps in concrete terms. Fortunately, I have a few advantages Chast didn't. I have a sibling, so I have an ally. Thanks to Atul Gawande's encouragement, such matters have been an open conversation between my parents and me for a long time. I think it's fair to say I have easier relationships with my parents than Chast had with hers but it's also fair to say our relationships aren't perfect either. Finding the proper balance as my own needs decrease while theirs increase has been tricky. Communication takes work. And patience, vulnerability, persistence, forgiveness, grace... and did I mention patience? I am neither a perfect son nor a perfect brother. But I swear, I work at both.
And naturally, facing my parents' increasing needs also forces me to confront the reality that one day, my wife and I will need to do the same for ourselves. We have an only child so it will be all on them. What can we do to make the transitions easier for all of us when the time comes? I don't want to live forever, nor do I care to live past the point where I can reasonably take care of myself. But mine are not the only wants and needs to consider.
Chast generously shares her struggles with all of this. It's not an easy read. She does little to hide the dirty details. But it's deeply important for all of us to think about such things more than we do. I'm grateful for her candor.