Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (When our parents age)

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Excerpt from “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” by Roz Chast of the New Yorker.

“I was just talking to somebody yesterday who said the worst thing for a parent is to have a child who’s a writer.”New Yorker cartoonist, Roz Chast.

I would like to write about my parents.

I wrote a couple of columns about my father’s Parkinson’s when I was a newspaper reporter for the Home News Tribune, and I’ve blogged about his illness on this blog once or twice. But I would like to someday write stories about them, their childhoods, and especially, how my dad was pre-Parkinson’s.

And as for my mother, that’s more complicated.

I’ve never been the super close daughter (the type to talk about every single detail with her mom) that she was with her mother. (My grandmother is still alive, but she has Alzheimer’s, which means my mother has lost, in essence, her best friend.) Add in the fact that she is stressed because she’s my father’s full-time caregiver, and it’s even more complicated.

Thankfully, our relationship is a bit better (much less bickering) since I’ve lived on my own (after a separation and subsequent divorce that she didn’t agree with at first) but, like all things, it could be better.

I have some things to work out, or talk about (?), in order to make that happen. And then I hope to write about them more, especially my mother, since she’s not very open about her feelings (hey, maybe we are alike, after all!) because as the most hardworking immigrants I know, my parents have some interesting stories that deserve some pixels on the Internet.

Now back to cartoonist Roz Chast. I learned about her latest work via a wonderful interview on “All Things Considered” on WNYC:

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Roz Chast

“The longtime New Yorker cartoonist is an only child and became the sole caretaker for her parents, George and Elizabeth Chast, when they reached old age. In her new, illustrated memoir — Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (Bloomsbury USA, 2014) — Chast mixes the humor with the heartache. It’s about the last years of her parents’ lives and her relationship with them as their child and conflicted caretaker.

“They never had what’s known these days as ‘The Talk’ — an acknowledgement that their deaths were inevitable. As a result, Chast says, everyone was in denial and actively avoided the subject, even as it was staring them squarely in the face.”

“Chast’s parents — who were both born in 1912 — lived independently in Brooklyn up until their early 90s. Things started to go downhill in 2005 when her mother fell off a step stool at age 93. ‘She was in bed for a few days, and it was clear that what was going on was more than the fall off the ladder,’ Chast recalls. ‘That was the beginning of their sort of slide into the next part of old age — you know, the last chapters.'”

My parents are in their late 60s, early 70s. I can’t imagine it getting to this point Chast describes, but I guess my brothers and I should prepare ourselves sooner rather than later. And today, after reading this story in The New York Times, about a man who is 111 years old, I agree wholeheartedly with Chast:

“When people talk about extending the human lifespan to 120 it bothers Roz Chast. ‘That upsets me for a lot of reasons,’ she tells NPR’s Melissa Block. ‘I feel like these are people who don’t really know anybody over 95.’ The reality of old age, she says, is that ‘people are not in good shape, and everything is falling apart.'”

Though my parents aren’t in their 90s, my father has a chronic disease that renders him pretty immobile, and so, I too, can’t imagine wanting to live to 111. (God bless this man who has, though!)

Listen to the entire interview with Roz Chast here, and read an excerpt from her illustrated memoir via The New Yorker.

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3 thoughts on “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (When our parents age)

  1. Your post couldn’t have gone live at a more timely (for me) moment. My beloved dad is in the hospital tonight for what is probably the 4th the this year. He just turned 78 and until recently, was awfully strong.

    And that is all I can type about it without crying…

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